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An Inside Look At Apple’s Legal Battles

It’s great to be an in-house lawyer these days. The jobs enjoy greater prestige than they did in the past. Depending on which company you work for, the compensation can outstrip Biglaw, big time.

And let’s not forget: the work can be very, very interesting. For example, imagine being the general counsel or another in-house lawyer at Apple — a company involved in two of the most high-profile litigation battles currently raging….

The current (June 2014) issue of Vanity Fair magazine has generated tons of buzz, mainly due to its excellent essay by Monica Lewinsky. L’Affaire Lewinsky had, of course, a big legal angle. Lewinsky was, as the late Christopher Hitchens put it, “[t]he face that launched a thousand subpoenas,” and the scandal was zealously investigated by one of the nation’s most distinguished lawyers, former D.C. Circuit judge and U.S. solicitor general Kenneth Starr (aided by a gaggle of brilliant young lawyers, many of whom are now federal judges).

But legal nerds will appreciate two other articles in the issue as well, both about the legal battles of Apple. First up (p. 98) is Kurt Eichenwald’s detailed piece about the epic, ongoing courtroom warfare between Apple and Samsung (which we’ve covered extensively in these pages). As Eichenwald notes, the legal battle has dragged on for three years, spanned four continents, and cost the two companies more than $1 billion. And it’s far from over — bad news for the companies themselves, but good news for firms like Quinn Emanuel, representing Samsung, and Morrison & Foerster and WilmerHale, representing Apple.

Apple partisans and groupies will find some things to like in Eichenwarld’s article and some things to dislike. They’ll like his depiction of Samsung as, well, thuggish — a company with a long history of illegal conduct and little respect for the rule of law, in his telling. They’ll dislike his suggestion that Apple might win the legal battle but lose the business war, thanks to Samsung’s improved technology and growing market share.

A few pages later (p. 104), veteran legal journalist David Margolick profiles Judge Denise Cote (S.D.N.Y.), aka “The Judge That Apple Hates” (the title for the piece in the online version; in print, it gets the more sedate “Her Bite of Apple”). Margolick focuses on Cote’s handling of the antitrust case against Apple arising out of its arrangements with publishers concerning the pricing of e-books. Judge Cote held that these agreements violated the Sherman Act. Defenders of the arrangements — including Apple’s outside counsel at Gibson Dunn, which handled the trial before Judge Cote and is now working on the appeal — argue that they were actually pro-competitive, an attempt to check the power of Amazon.

Margolick’s contains some fun personal tidbits about Judge Cote. For example:

During the trial of an Albanian crime crew in which the testimony of one witness was in Greek, the witness recounted one of the defendants shouting “Motherfucker! Motherfucker! Motherfucker!” “Just so the record is clear, the witness said ‘motherfucker’ three times in English,” Cote calmly told the court reporter.

He also talks about her close relationships with her law clerks, whom she sometimes fixes up on dates, and her wide-ranging outside interests. His main focus, though, is on her handling of United States v. Apple and related matters.

So Apple faces legal battles on both the intellectual-property and antitrust fronts. It’s a good thing that its general counsel since 2009, Bruce Sewell, has background in both areas. And he’s paid a pretty penny — Holy Eight-Figure Stock Grant, Batman! — to oversee a complex and challenging portfolio.

The Great Smartphone War [Vanity Fair]
The Judge That Apple Hates [Vanity Fair]

Earlier: Who Are America’s Best-Paid General Counsel? (2013 Rankings)

Disclosure: I own stock in both Apple and Amazon. Don’t worry — they’re not large positions (I don’t own many individual stocks), I’ve already taken a lot of profit on AAPL and AMZN (I fear the market is overvalued), and much more of my net worth is in things like index funds, which I just buy and hold.

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