Will Bitter Patent Dispute Erode Apple and Samsung’s $5 BILLION Relationship?

The ongoing patent battle between Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Samsung is taking a trip down under as an Australian judge on Monday began hearing evidence for an anticipated three-month trial.

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While the Australian court decision will have no substantial impact in other jurisdictions like Europe or the United States, lawyers say the trial proceedings could reshape the legal strategies employed by Apple and Samsung going forward.

Mark Summerfield, a patent lawyer and senior associate with Melbourne-based law firm Watermark, told Reuters, “there’s no doubt there’s a strategic and psychological effect” attached to the Australian case. “Courts in other countries will watch what is happening here.”

Apple and Samsung have done battle in 10 countries since April 2011 over patents covering smartphones and tablets. The Australian dispute centers on touch-screen technology used in Samsung’s new Galaxy 10.1 tablet.

While the industry in recent years has been rife with patent litigation, that between Apple and Samsung stands out from the crowd for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the two have a long-standing relationship that could come crumbling down if the fighting becomes too bitter.

Samsung counts Apple as its biggest customer, making parts central to many of its mobile devices, while Apple counts Samsung as one of its chief suppliers. But their $5 billion-plus relationship may be up for grabs as they find themselves more often competitors than partners. Samsung’s Galaxy tablet and its touchscreen Galaxy smartphone are thought to be the biggest competitors yet for Apple’s iPad and iPhone. And as companies like Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) continue flailing, Apple and Samsung have risen to the top, doing battle in some very thin air.

It could be only a matter of time before one of them chooses to end their relationship in an effort to cripple the other.

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