Australia swept up in Apple-Samsung confidentiality breach

Samsung's lawyers in Australia allegedly breached the confidentiality arrangement it has in place with Apple, allowing unauthorised access to documents about Apple's patent licensing agreements.

Samsung's Australian lawyers have been caught up in an alleged breach of confidentiality over licensing agreement documents between Apple and other vendors, in the long-running patent dispute between Apple and Samsung over alleged patent infringement in the Galaxy Tab 10.1, iPad 2, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S.

It was revealed earlier this month that Samsung lawyers in the US had posted a highly confidential report by Dr David J Teece regarding the patent licensing agreements Apple had in place with Nokia, Ericsson, Sharp, and Phillips to a Samsung FTP site.

Although only Samsung's lawyers were supposed to have access to the document, on the FTP site, it has been alleged by Apple that at least 223 unauthorised people, including 90 Samsung employees and 130 lawyers outside of Samsung, have had access to the document.

A sworn declaration by Nokia's chief intellectual property officer Paul Melin states that in a meeting with a Samsung executive in June this year, the executive claimed to know details of the licensing agreement between Nokia and Apple. Samsung, for its part, has claimed a miscommunication and said the meeting was lost in translation.

As the 2011 patent dispute case between Apple and Samsung continues in the Australian Federal Court, Justice Annabelle Bennett earlier this month asked Samsung's Australian representatives to see whether there had also been a similar breach of confidentiality in Australia. According to transcripts lodged in the US court, posted on the FOSS Patents blog, in a hearing on Thursday last week, Samsung counsel acknowledged that a different confidential report also by Dr Teece had been breached in Australia.

Counsel for Samsung, K Williams, told the court that four Samsung employees received the information in Australia, three of whom were lawyers, via an email. She said that two of the lawyers indicated that they didn't read the email. Those four employees were said to have access to the FTP site, but Samsung had not indicated at that stage whether the employees had accessed the draft report.

"Well, somebody did. Somebody did, because the allegations are it was used in negotiations with Nokia," Bennett said.

Williams said that the Australian document was transmitted by Samsung's Australian law firm Ashurst to two Samsung employees, one of whom is a lawyer instructing Samsung in the case and the other an engineer within Samsung's licensing group.

"Well, why would it have been sent to a licensing person? I can understand it going to the lawyer who's instructing you. I can understand that. Why on Earth would it go to somebody — a Samsung licensing executive from Ashurst?" Bennett asked.

Williams said that the engineer is providing "instructions and logistical assistance" to the Samsung lawyers. She insisted that the engineer "does not now recall the contents" of the confidential document.

Ashurst did not have access to the draft Teece report that is the subject of the US confidentiality breach, according to Williams, but it does have the final report, which is redacted. She said that Samsung is preparing evidence on the alleged breach by November 7, but Bennett said there would be no time to deal with the matter.

The lengthy case, which commenced in August 2011 , with hearings first starting in July 2012 , is set to resume on November 7 and will run up until December 20.