The Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab have been battling in courts across the globe. Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired

Apple and Samsung have been engaged in heated patent litigation since April 2011, but it looks like resolution could finally be imminent.

On May 21 and 22, the two companies will meet in a San Francisco court to settle their differences. In contention: more than 50 patent-related lawsuits that have been filed in 10 countries.

Apple initially went after Samsung because its products were similar “beyond the realm of coincidence” to Apple’s iPhone and iPad. The companies have since chased one other around the globe, using their patent holdings as weapons of warfare in a larger battle for consumer electronics dominance.

“This is all a game of chess for them,” IHS analyst Wayne Lam told Wired. “Ultimately, in these patent litigations, it gets sorted out in the back rooms, and usually involves people and companies cross-licensing from one another.”

‬Patent expert Florian Mueller, who’s been following the Apple versus Samsung case closely, estimates that the dispute has cost each party hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and thinks the upcoming proceedings in San Francisco won’t yield a full resolution, but will be a major step in that direction.

“The parties probably need more guidance from the courts before this matter is ripe for settlement,” Mueller told Wired via e-mail. “In the near term, I think the most they could agree on would be the withdrawal of select claims, or maybe a particular category of claims.”

So what can consumers expect — if anything — once the two companies declare peace? Would an Apple-Samsung detente affect product design, or lower prices?

Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi answers the question by explaining the things that can happen when consumer electronics companies wage patent war on each other. First, they put more energy into innovation, as they try to circumvent patent blocks. And that can be a net positive.

Mueller agrees: “Apple’s patent enforcement clearly forces the Android ecosystem, including Samsung as its most important device maker, to come up with new and inventive solutions, such as different slide-to-unlock mechanisms than the ones protected by Apple.”

However, on the negative side, says Milanesi, when a company has to pay to use a patent, those costs are handed off to consumers in the form of higher product prices. So, theoretically, hardware prices could decrease (if only slightly) if and when Apple and Samsung settle their differences.

And then, finally, there’s the issue of market bans, says Milanesi: Patent litigation can prevent certain pieces of hardware from being sold in various locations around the globe. This problem would go away following an Apple-Samsung peace accord.

Although it’s impossible to tease out the degree to which product pricing has been affected by legal battles, regional product bans are relatively obvious. For example, in October 2011, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was banned from store shelves in Australia for violating Apple’s multitouch patents. Similarly, a Dutch court banned three Samsung phones for sale in the Netherlands in August 2011.

Lam of IHS thinks an end to patent warfare could have specific implications for Apple’s next iPhone. Samsung controls patents pertaining to LTE, so Lam said he will be closely watching May’s court proceedings for signs that Apple is closing in on the high-speed data technology for its phone. Lam thinks Samsung’s LTE patents could be playing a role in Apple’s sluggish roll-out of LTE hardware. Android smartphones and tablets have supported LTE for more than a year now, but Apple just released its first LTE product — a tablet — in March.

“There must be a reasonable balance between intellectual property protection and everyone’s freedom to compete, and the whole Apple versus Samsung dispute is very much about where to draw the line,” Mueller said. “This litigation may very well have positive effects that will outweigh the negative ones when all is said and done.”

Article source: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/04/apple-samsung-suit-means/