‘Switch off your phones,’ scolds judge repeatedly in Samsung vs Apple trial

Apr 10 2014, 09:24 IST
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Frustrated judge in high-profile patent battle has had to shame those with phones on by asking them to ‘stand up’ (Illustration: C R Sasikumar) Frustrated judge in high-profile patent battle has had to shame those with phones on by asking them to ‘stand up’ (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)
SummaryFrustrated judge in high-profile patent battle has had to shame those with phones on by asking them to ‘stand up’

So far one of the biggest problems for the federal judge overseeing a patent battle between the world’s largest smartphone makers isn’t about stolen ideas. It’s getting the roomful of smartphone devotees to turn off their devices.

US District Judge Lucy Koh has become increasingly frustrated during the first few days of the trial pitting Apple against Samsung because the many personal Wi-Fi signals interfere with a network the judge relies on for a real-time transcript of the proceedings. The phones also ring, buzz and jingle, and can be used to take photos, a serious violation of court rules.

In the first five days of trial, Koh has interrupted testimony with a sharp “Phones off!’’ She’s warned that she might force everyone to hand over their phones. She’s threatened to send everyone, except a select few, into an overflow room. And she’s shamed those with phones turned on to “Stand up!’’ — which a few sheepishly did.

The disturbances are unusual for a federal court, which is typically a quiet space with respect for tradition and decorum.

“Everyone make sure your cellphones are off so we don’t have the same real-time issue we’ve been having,’’ courtroom deputy Martha Parker-Brown warned on Tuesday.

Already that morning, before the judge or jury had entered the courtroom, unusual shouts of “hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!’’ rang out as Apple attorney William Lee pointed at Wharton School marketing professor David Reibstein, who was taking photos from the spectator rows. Reibstein was escorted out, questioned by a marshal and required to erase the photos. “I’ve never been in a federal trial before,’’ Reibstein said after he was allowed to return. “I just didn’t know court rules.’’

Smartphone controversies were obviously expected when the fiercest rivalry in the world of phone makers returned to court in the heart of Silicon Valley. Just not this way.

The high-profile case has packed the courtroom, with dozens of black-suited attorneys backed by rows of reporters and experts. Executives and staff members from the two companies sit on opposite sides of the courtroom and whip out their respective iPhones and Galaxy devices in the hallways during breaks.

“It’s a case of connection addiction,’’ Columbia University religious studies professor Robert A F Thurman said. “They’re afraid to be on their own, without some sort of artificial assistance. It needs to be treated by some kind of contemplative therapy.’’

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