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Samsung Lawyers Accuse Apple of Playing the Race Card


A comment was made that could be read either as an attempted appeal to sentimentality or a racially charged insult.

The seemingly endless legal battle over intellectual property between Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) took a strange turn yesterday when Samsung's lawyers accused their opponents of using racially tinged language to appeal to the jury's patriotism. The South Korean company's lawyers are seeking a mistrial.

Yesterday, according to Bloomberg News, Harold McElhinny, an Apple attorney, made closing remarks that appealed to patriotism. He lamented that there weren't any more American-made televisions like there used to be back in the good old days. He connected this problem to the issue of intellectual property, saying that US TV manufacturers failed because they didn't protect it.

Bill Price, Samsung's attorney, asked the judge to call a mistrial because Apple was appealing to race and making a dubious claim that it was a failure to protect intellectual property alone that killed those companies. McElhinny denies that he appealed to race because he didn't specifically use the word "Asian." An Asian-American colleague backed McElhinny up.

If you feel like there has been a glitch in the Matrix, you aren't alone.

Yes, Samsung and Apple are in court again. This time, the court is deciding how much Samsung needs to pay Apple in damages from last year's trial, when it was accused of copying Apple's signature style. In August 2012, Apple was awarded $1.05 billion in damages because the jury decided that Samsung was guilty of infringing on Apple's design patents, but the same judge, Lucy Koh, cut that award to $410.5 million, and now the court is back again to decide what amount is appropriate. Samsung is aiming to get its fees down to $52 million.

It's hard not to see where Samsung's team is coming from regarding McElhinny's comment. Even if Samsung has become a little cavalier with its iPhone look-alikes, it was hobbled by the fact that Apple is America's corporate sweetheart. There is little else we make that the world covets anymore. The narrative that Westerners invent and Asians copy is a pernicious prejudice.

Starting in the late 1960s, when America's de-industrialization started in earnest, US companies were resting on their laurels while Asian competitors, led by Japan, were innovating. Thanks to just-in-time inventory management and a favorable exchange rate, Japanese companies were able to compete with American brands and make better, cheaper cars and TVs.

Asians were often scapegoated for the loss of well-paying industrial jobs in the US. The character Bumpy Johnson in the 2007 film American Gangster, which took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, voiced this widespread resentment.

"Sony (NYSE:SNE) this. Toshiba (OTCMKTS:TOSBF) that. All them ch***s putting Americans out of work. That's the way it is now. You can't find the heart of anything to stick the knife," he said.

The perceived connection between Asia and the loss of blue-collar jobs and decline of manufacturing has even led to hate crimes. In 1982, Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American in the Detroit area, was viciously murdered by laid-off auto workers.

This is the cultural backdrop to this trial and it can't be ignored.

Whether or not the jury is influenced by a desire to see the home team win, there is a twinge of irony here. Only bits and pieces of the iPhone are made in the United States. Its components are actually a marvelous cornucopia of parts made in Asia. Aside from the forthcoming Mac Pro, none of Apple's products are really American products.

Still, a subtle nationalist appeal might not be what helps Apple in this trial. An email to Samsung engineers reading, "Let's make something like the iPhone" might. Samsung's loss last year struck fear into the hearts of all Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) original equipment manufacturers, who might stand accused of cribbing Apple's designs, but the trial mostly covered outdated technology. Yet another AppSung battle will go down in March that concerns current models from both tech giants.

Twitter: @vincent_trivett
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