Key Lessons from Top Corporate Legal Fights

View all blog posts under Articles

From intellectual property (IP) issues to regulatory concerns, global corporations have no shortage of legal issues to contend with. While high-ranking legal teams argue both sides of the issue at hand, attorneys can learn a lot from these cases. As you pursue your Master of Laws degree, it’s important to consider the value of these relevant case lessons to your current learning.

Read about five top corporate legal fights in recent history and discover key issues you can learn from each case:

Uber vs. Google

Tools of the legal profession

When it comes to technology companies, it is imperative to protect the thought processes and ideas that enable them to become global giants. Though Alphabet rarely pursues lawsuits against other tech giants, USA Today reports that Google’s parent company found it necessary to sue Uber for stealing trade secrets in early 2017.

At the center of this legal battle is product engineer Anthony Levandowski, who worked with Google before leaving to form his own self-driving truck company, Otto. When Uber purchased Otto for $680 million in mid-2016, Google determined that Levandowski had stolen no fewer than 14,000 sensitive documents, which the tech giant considers trade secrets related to Waymo, its own self-driving car company.

Though Uber continues to claim its innocence and assert that the technology they developed did not involve any stolen trade secrets, the two companies’ legal teams will likely argue this case for months or even years to come. From this case, attorneys who focus on IP law can learn more about how the courts treat trade secrets as well as how competing companies may have the power to stop their rivals’ product development or corporate acquisitions with a lawsuit.

European Commission vs. Google

In June 2017, Google found itself on the other end of a legal battle, this one substantially larger. Following a seven-year investigation, The Hill explains, the European Commission, an executive body of the European Union, levied a $2.7 billion fine against the tech giant. The European Commission has pointed to the EU’s antitrust rules as its reasoning for the penalty, which is the largest of its kind. Essentially, the European Commission has accused the tech giant of promoting its own online shopping tools before those of competitors, preventing European shoppers from having a full range of choices.

This record penalty may not be the end of Google’s legal battles with the European Commission, though. As of July 2017, two outstanding investigations continued to explore filing lawsuits against Google for similar infractions in its mobile offerings and advertising services.

Attorneys who specialize in international regulations are likely to watch this case closely, as it could affect many related cases in the future. Both Facebook and Amazon may meet similar regulatory battles with the European Commission, and other tech companies may soon follow suit.

Samsung vs. Apple

IP is a frequent concern for global corporations, and Apple has experienced its fair share of legal battles to retain IP rights. Apple’s legal conflicts with tech rival Samsung date back to at least 2011, when Apple sued Samsung for design patent infringement. As National Law Review explains, this lawsuit essentially claimed that Samsung had copied Apple’s patented iPhone design. Apple ultimately won this legal battle, with a reward of $399 million in damages.

Samsung, however, appealed the case, and the Federal Circuit upheld. In 2017, on remand from the Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit continues to interpret the intricacies of Apple’s design patent as it considers whether Samsung did, in fact, infringe on the patent. IP attorneys can expect to learn much more about developing an airtight design patent as this case continues.

Apple vs. Nokia

In addition to IP issues, Apple has also been involved in antitrust cases. As The Verge explains, Apple and Nokia first faced each other in the courtroom over a patent issue in 2011, and in 2016, the two companies again found themselves at legal odds. Apple initiated the legal battle by filing an antitrust lawsuit against the patent assertion entities (PAEs) that act on behalf of Nokia, claiming that these PAEs create an “anticompetitive” playing field for tech companies like Apple. In response, the Finnish company filed a lawsuit against Apple, citing overdue payments for patent licensing.

This case is particularly interesting because it addresses the legality of PAEs, which enforce and litigate patent infringement on behalf of partner companies. Apple’s lawsuit effectively suggests that PAEs should not have the right to sue other companies routinely on behalf of a third party. Both legal scholars and other tech companies may continue to fight this battle in the future, however, because Apple and Nokia settled their case without taking it to court. As Apple reports, the two tech companies agreed to an extended patent license that resolved some immediate concerns.

Nike vs. Several Entities

In 2015, Nike became the target of three significant legal battles, two related to design and one related to trade secrets. As Quartz explains, Nike first involved rival sneaker manufacturer Adidas in a legal battle related to a patent for footwear with knit uppers. Next, photographer Jacobus Rentmeester sued Nike for using his photo of Michael Jordan to create its signature “Jumpman” logo. Shortly afterward, Nike accused Adidas of hiring three of the company’s former designers, who Nike claimed had stolen trade secrets.

Though these particular IP battles are now ancient history, both experienced and aspiring attorneys can learn from these issues. In all three cases, much smaller entities fought against Nike, a global brand with a massive footprint. As Quartz explains, Nike could afford to spend much more to defend the company, but it also had much more to lose, given the size of its brand. For major companies like Nike, defending brand and IP are worth enduring long, drawn-out legal battles.

While these corporate legal fights range in scope and financial impact, the complexity and demand for a specialized legal team unites them. If these cases spark your interest and you are considering advancing your legal education, consider an online Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree from USC Gould School of Law.

Nokia and Apple sign patent license and business cooperation agreement, settle all litigation
Google says it rarely sues — but it made an exception with Uber
Google EU fine sends shockwaves across tech
Apple and Nokia are fighting about patents again
Intellectual Property Cases to Watch in 2017
Nike is fighting three legal battles to protect the brand’s design soul