So far one of the biggest problems for a federal judge overseeing a patent battle between the world’s largest smartphone makers isn’t about stolen ideas. It’s getting the roomful of smartphone devotees to turn off their devices.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh has become increasingly frustrated during the first few days of the trial pitting Apple against Samsung because the many personal Wi-Fi signals interfere with a network the judge relies on for a real-time transcript of the proceedings.
The phones also ring, buzz and jingle, and can be used to take photos, a serious violation of court rules.
In the first five days of trial, Koh has interrupted testimony with a sharp “Phones off!” She’s warned she might force everyone to hand over their phones. She’s threatened to send everyone, except a select few, into an overflow room. And she’s shamed those with phones turned on to “Stand up!” — which a few sheepishly did.
The disturbances are unusual for a federal court, which is typically a quiet space with respect for tradition and decorum. There’s no snacking or chatting, no newspaper rustling or recording.
Smartphone controversies were obviously expected when the fiercest rivalry in the world of phone makers returned to court in the heart of Silicon Valley. Just not this way.
Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. are accusing each other, once again, of ripping off designs and features. The trial marks the latest round in a long-running series of lawsuits between the two tech giants, and is being tried less than two years after a federal jury found Samsung was infringing on Apple patents.
The high-profile case has packed the courtroom, with dozens of black-suited attorneys backed by rows of reporters and experts. Executives and staff members from the two companies sit on opposite sides of the courtroom and whip out their respective iPhones and Galaxy devices in the hallways during breaks.
Breaking for lunch on day five, Koh’s tone was more subdued but her aggravation was apparent.
“Unfortunately the transcript died again this morning,” she said. “Please, if you’re going to come in, keep your cellphones off. If you need your phone on, please go to the overflow room.”
That didn’t happen. Instead, when the trial resumed, she caught someone using a phone in court, threatened to bring in security, and then, irritated, asked why so many lawyers are using Wi-Fi at all.
“I don’t know what all of you do,” Koh said.