May 31, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Why Google Should Love Apple and Samsung’s ‘Frenemy’ Lawsuit

amoled apple samsung

Samsung may not be willing to let Apple use its bright, crisp AMOLED (pictured above) screens for its tablet, in part because Apple is also suing Samsung over its smartphone and tablet designs.

Patent wars tend to be ugly, but few are as odd and conflicted as the one Apple is waging with Samsung for allegedly stealing its tablet and smartphone designs, while reportedly trying to get the company to build it a crucial elements of those same designs: the screen, which dominates tablets’ design and improves the appearance of every app.

With the maturing Android operating system used by Samsung and others in smartphone and tablets, threatening Apple walled garden of app-running mobile devices, feelings were bound to be hurt. In the latest development in this ongoing patent infringement case, in which Apple claims Samsung’s Galaxy S phones and tablets, Epic 4G, and Nexus S infringe its patents, Samsung is demanding to see Apple’s designs for the iPad 3 and iPhone 5, following Apple’s bid to let its lawyers see Samsung’s own next-generation devices.

All of this is happening even as rumors swirl that Apple wants to use its legal foe Samsung’s bright new AMOLED displays in the next iPad. OLED screens feature deeper blacks and lower power consumption than standard LCD screens, among other advantages, and Samsung’s active matrix OLEDs are said to function particularly well in direct sunlight — key features for iPads.

A court ordered Samsung to surrender five yet-unreleased Galaxy prototypes to be analyzed by Apple’s legal team, with a possible early injunction against the company hinging on the result. In interest of preserving trade secrets — which are what this is all about — Samsung’s prototypes will be made available to Apple’s legal team exclusively and only as they apply to the case, keeping Apple product engineers well out of the loop. Presumably, if its counter-request is granted, Samsung would also have to make sure, somehow, that its legal team didn’t pass Apple’s design secrets to its product team.

Apple COO Tim Cook ventured to South Korea earlier this month – some say to meet with Samsung to talk about putting Samsung’s AMOLED displays into the next iPad. This would mark a continuation of the long-standing, mutually-beneficial relationship between Apple and Samsung that has already seen the latter supplying the former with processors and flash memory, sometimes at a volume discount that irks other manufacturers.

Just one snag: Samsung already includes its AMOLED displays in the Samsung S, which is one of the same smartphones Apple claims violates its patents. Apple’s simultaneous assault on a competitor’s product line and apparent pursuit of the company’s superior proprietary display technology, which that competitor has yet to implement in its own tablet, would certainly provide for an interesting boardroom dynamic. As 9to5mac says, “Samsung would be crazy to allow Steve Jobs to beat them to market with the world’s first AMOLED tablet.”

Samsung’s $23 billion AMOLED factory, which will produce large displays from tablet to TV sizes, is expected to be operational by 2012. Samsung needs Apple’s business, but might not need it badly enough to supply a competitor who is actively suing it over the very same devices.

If that’s the case, the tablets with the best screens will run not Apple’s iOS, but Android, making Google the unwitting winner of this squabble.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)