Will Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Samsung reach a settlement in their patent dispute involving Apple iPad, iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices? A judge in the case is urging Apple CEO Tim Cook and Samsung executives to sit down at a negotiating table and hash things out. Conventional wisdom says Apple and Samsung won't reach a settlement. But here's why conventional wisdom could be wrong.

First, the background -- which Forbes sums up nicely:
  • Apple sued Samsung in early 2011, claiming Samsung copied designs for the iPhone and iPad. Apple experts claim the company is entitled to $2.7 billion from Samsung. Big money, big money.
  • Samsung countersued in mid-2011, saying that Apple’s products use an Intel chip that infringes its wireless communications patent and incorporate photo and music functions in its email programs that were patented by Samsung. Its damages experts say Apple will owe Samsung more than $400 million if the jury takes its side.
  • Judge Lucy Koh says she’s “pathologically hopeful” Apple and Samsung will settle before a verdict is delivered.

Looking Back for Clues

Still, let's not forget Steve Jobs was willing to "go thermonuclear war" over the patent lawsuit Apple filed against HTC. That suit, by extension, attacked Google Android.

In Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs, the former Apple CEO said:
"Our lawsuit is saying, 'Google you f***ing ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product."
Did Jobs have similar feelings about Samsung, which leverages Android in the Galaxy devices that allegedly infringe Apple's patents? And, by extension, does current Apple CEO Tim Cook carry such strong disdain for Samsung?

Negotiating Chips?

The answer to those questions may not matter. Far more important:
  • Can Apple and Samsung somehow work a an intellectual property "trade" where both companies feel like they gained huge upside without experiencing too much downside?
  • Can both companies also set aside emotions long enough to look across the negotiating table and make reasonable demands?
Hmmm... before you answer, let's rewind the 1997. Back then, Apple was in a position of extreme weakness. Yet Steve Jobs somehow leveraged patents to make Microsoft invest in Apple. Mac fanboys hated the deal at the time, but it bought Apple enough time to simplify its product line and ultimately launch the iMac in 1998... and then plenty more.

This time around, which company has the upper hand during the patent lawsuit trial? That's difficult to say, especially since the judge in the case is essentially suggesting that neither Apple nor Samsung should leave the case's outcome in the hands of the jurors...