The Work

November 18, 2008 2:56 PM

Monday: Not a Good Day for Samsung

Posted by Zach Lowe

Samsung Electronics had a good week last week, when federal prosecutors did not charge the company along with three rivals accused of price-fixing -- possibly because Samsung won amnesty for its cooperation in the investigation.

This week is off to a much worse start for the company. That's because teams from King & Spalding and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr both slapped the South Korean giant with patent infringement suits in the same day, one related to the memory chips used in portable electronic devices, and the other connected to camera-phone technology.

As detailed in this story from the National Law Journal today, Spansion Inc. of Sunnyvale, California, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Delaware accusing Samsung of using Spansion's patented technology to build memory chips used in at least 100 million portable devices marketed in the U.S.

The King & Spalding team representing Spansion has been working on the complaint for at least four months, says lead partner Ethan Horwitz. The firm has a long relationship with Saifun, a semiconductor manufacturer that recently became a subsidiary of Spansion, Horwitz says.

According to the lawsuit--and a separate complaint filed with the International Trade Commission--Samsung even mentions the specific Spansion patent number at issue in some of its own patent applications -- without actually naming Spansion.

"That's not perfect proof" of infringement, Horwitz says. "But it's pretty good proof. It shows it wasn't an accident."

Spansion wants to halt the U.S. sales of any Samsung-made products that use the chip technology, including BlackBerry handhelds, iPods and other gadgets.

Horwitz says he's not sure who Samsung plans to retain in the case. (Samsung's public relations department did not respond to a request for comment on both cases.)

Acting on behalf of Eastman Kodak, meanwhile, a Wilmer team is also seeking to block Samsung imports, in this case of cell phones that allegedly use Kodak's patented means of capturing, storing and previewing images on a screen, according to the complaint and to this Bloomberg roundup.

Kodak filed its lawsuit in U.S. district court in Rochester and a separate complaint with the ITC. Both Kodak and Spansion seek unspecified damages in the lawsuits.

A half-dozen Wilmer partners listed on the complaint--including William Lee, the firm's co-managing partner--either did not respond to requests for comment or referred calls to a Kodak spokesman.

The spokesman says the company does not know who will represent Samsung and has not been contacted by any attorneys for the company.

James McGinnis, a San Francisco-based partner for Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton who frequently represents Samsung, says Sheppard Mullin will not be handling either of these cases. Another Samsung regular, Matthew Powers, a partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

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