Apple and Samsung start ‘Groundhog Day’ patent trial: a quick guide to what you need to know

Apple(s aapl) and Samsung have been slugging it out in courtrooms around the world, but the “tech trial of the century” took place last year in San Jose, California, where Apple won a blowout $1.05 billion jury verdict.

On Tuesday, the case starts up all over again as Apple and Samsung return to the same court to argue damages before the same judge, who predicted it would be “Groundhog Day” – a reference to the film where Bill Murray wakes up every day to relive the exact same events. Here’s a short, plain English Q&A to what’s going on:

What was the original trial all about?

It all started with former Apple CEO Steve Jobs vowing to start “thermonuclear war” over what he perceived as Samsung’s decision to “slavishly copy” the iPhone and other Apple products.

Apple filed a lawsuit in San Jose in 2011, claiming Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones and tablets infringed Apple’s utility and design patents. Samsung filed its own patent claims, but the outcome was a lop-sided verdict for Apple: the hometown jury said the Korean company had infringed a slew of patents and ordered it to pay $1.05 billion, and found Apple had infringed nothing.

So why are we back in court before a new jury?

The new trial isn’t about the patent infringement verdict (though that’s before an appeals court) — instead, it’s about the dollar figures. US District Judge Lucy Koh said the original jury used a flawed theory to calculate damages for 14 of the 26 Apple patents, and shaved the original verdict by about 45 percent.

Now, a new jury is going to do the math again and figure out how much of the original damages to restore.

So much will Samsung have to pay this time around?

Who knows. Lawyers from both sides will ply the jury with “facts” about how much the Samsung products harmed Apple. Under America’s curious jury system, this group of lay people who have little training in economics, merchandising or intellectual property will pick a figure.

In a flicker of good news for Samsung, Judge Koh on Monday agreed to the company’s emergency request (see below) to stop Apple’s lawyers from espousing certain damage theories.

How long will this go on?

The plan is to select the jury on Tuesday and for the lawyers to make their case and wrap it up by early next week. In a Monday order, Judge Koh wrote “If jury deliberations do not conclude by Friday, November 22, 2013, the jury will resume deliberations on Monday, November 25, 2013 […] Monday, December 2, 2013; and every consecutive business day thereafter as needed.”

My own guess is that the jurors will want to be left alone to eat Turkey and watch football — so bet on them issuing a verdict next week.

What products does the ruling affect?

This all started years ago, so it’s about older Samsung devices: the Galaxy Prevail, Gem, Indulge, Infuse 4G, Galaxy SII AT&T(s t), Captivate, Continuum, Droid Charge, Epic 4G, Exhibit 4G, Galaxy Tab, Nexus S 4G, Replenish, and Transform.

The companies are also squaring off over newer products, including the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S III, in a separate trial starting next year.

What does this mean in the bigger picture for Apple and Samsung?

The actual dollar amount the jury hands down won’t really make a difference — Apple and Samsung are giant companies and even a billion dollar award is no big deal to then. The more important issue is setting precedent, which could influence other trials and tee the case up for appeal.

I can’t get enough of this stuff. How can I follow this even more?

The San Jose Mercury News will have a live blog from the courtroom. You can also follow Twitter accounts like @fedcourtjunkie and those of Professors Mark Lemley and Brian Love, both of whom are trustworthy patent experts.

To get a sense of how deep the lawyers are digging in, here’s Samsung’s lawyers complaining that Apple is “sandbagging” them (Koh agreed to the motion on Monday):

Samsung Emergency motion.pdf

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Image by Bahadir Yeniceri via Shutterstock