10 Biggest Tech Headlines in 2012

The Apple-Samsung Patent Kerfuffle
People line up outside the courtroom for the Apple-Samsung trials in the United States. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you follow tech news, you've probably heard the term patent wars. Companies file or buy patents to protect a particular invention, design or process. If Company A infringes upon a patent by releasing a product with a similar -- or even identical -- feature as can be found in a patent belonging to Company B, Company B can sue Company A.

That sounds simple enough, right? Reality tends to be more complex. Companies may countersue each other for various infractions. An accused company might try to prove that the patented feature or product isn't an original idea in an attempt to invalidate the patent. Things can get pretty ugly.

That's the case between Apple and Samsung, two major companies embroiled in a series of patent disputes across the globe. Most of the legal battles revolve around mobile devices in general and tablets in particular. And to make things even more confusing, the outcomes of the various lawsuits have contradicted each other.

On Aug. 24, 2012, a U.S. court found in favor of Apple's claim that Samsung had infringed upon Apple's patents. The court ordered Samsung to pay Apple around $1.05 billion in damages. A few months later, the court questioned if one of the patents that was central to the case was valid, which called into dispute the amount of damages. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) began to investigate Samsung for patenting designs that were necessary to comply with wireless standards and not licensing the technology in a fair, non-discriminatory manner [source: Kendall].

In the U.K., a court found in favor of Samsung, saying the company did not infringe Apple's patents related to tablet designs. As part of the judgment, the court ordered Apple to run advertisements in the U.K. that would clearly state Samsung had not copied Apple. Apple appealed the decision but the court decided to let it stand.

The battle continues to rage in other courts around the world, and it's clear we haven't heard the last of the spat between Apple and Samsung.