A UK court order to Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) seemed simple and clear: Publish a statement saying Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) did not copy Apple's design. Instead, Apple issued a rather tongue-in-cheek statement.
This infuriated the UK Court of Appeal, which issued the order and has now asked the company to delete that statement and publish a new one. (See: Apple in a Bind as Courts Wrangle Over Patents .)
"I'm at a loss that a company such as Apple would do this. That is a plain breach of the order," Judge Robin Jacob said. "I would like to see the head of Apple make an affidavit setting out the technical difficulties which means Apple can't put this on" its site. Jacob also declined Apple's request to wait two weeks to make the change.
A lower court issued a ruling (which was later upheld) that Samsung did not violate a specific Apple patent. The court ordered Apple to post a statement on its UK website affirming this position. Apple did what the court ordered but padded its published statement with several paragraphs indicating the same patent had been upheld in a German court. "While the U.K. court did not find Samsung guilty of infringement, other courts have recognized that in the course of creating its Galaxy tablet, Samsung willfully copied Apple's far more popular iPad," the statement said.
Apple clearly intended to send a message other than what the court had asked. In my opinion, it was directly challenging the ruling while pretending to comply with it. Were the executives who approved this being naïve or intransigent? Were they trying to score a point, or were they just plain stupid? A court order isn't supposed to be flouted or trifled with in this irresponsible manner.
If Apple had objections to the initial court order, it should have taken other steps to make its point. It could have filed an appeal with the UK Supreme Court. If that had failed, it could have taken the case before the European Court. Or it could have simply complied with the ruling and then used public relations propaganda to make the same point. Instead, it inserted comments that were not in line with the court's decision in the published statement.
A lawyer for Apple was quoted as saying the order was not "designed to make us grovel." But it wasn't meant to be trifled with, either, and now the company will have to grovel. The patent law system may be broken, but there are still ground rules companies must follow. Samsung itself lost a California case in which Apple was awarded $2 billion. If Samsung loses the appeal it has filed in that case, it will have to pay the full $2 billion and not a cent less.
That's what complying with the law means. If Apple fails to get this, it needs to and will hear again from the court. This time, it won't be a simple "what bloody cheek!"