In a lawsuit, Apple is seeking about $2 billion in damages from Samsung for selling phones and tablets that Apple says violate five of its mobile software patents. Samsung, meanwhile, says Apple violated two of its patents.
Some features in Samsung devices that Apple objects to are part of Google's Android operating system, by far the most popular mobile operating system worldwide, running on more than a billion devices made by many manufacturers.
That means that if Apple wins, Google could have to make changes to critical Android features, and Samsung and other Android phone makers might have to modify the software on their phones.
"Google's been lurking in the background of all these cases because of the Android system," said Mark P. McKenna, a professor who teaches intellectual property law at Notre Dame.
"Several people have described the initial battle between Samsung and Apple as really one between Apple and Google."
Representatives for Apple, Samsung and Google declined to comment.
The current case, which begins on Monday with jury selection, is the second major court battle over patents between Apple and Samsung, which rode the success of Android to become the biggest handset maker in the world. Samsung lost the first case in 2012, and it was ordered to pay $930 million in damages.
That amount is pocket change for Apple, one of the richest companies in the world. And it hardly interfered with Samsung's ability to sell phones: The company, which is based in South Korea, shipped 314 million handsets last year, according to the research firm IDC.
So this second fight has to be about more than money, said James Bessen, a law lecturer at Boston University. He said that if Apple just wanted money, it would have already agreed to settle.
Still, going after Google by attacking Samsung is difficult, Mr. Bessen said. Both Google and Samsung could alter features to avoid infringing on patents. And by the time the trial and appeals are finished, newer devices will have supplanted the products in question.
"To kill Android with a half-dozen patents," Mr. Bessen said, "just seems like a long shot."
Long shot or not, combating Google's Android system was a cherished goal of Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder and chief executive, who died in 2011. He called Android a knockoff of the iPhone and told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that he was willing to go to "thermonuclear war" just to kill Android.
He also told Mr. Isaacson that Apple's past patent lawsuit against HTC, another Android handset maker, was about Google all along.
"I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product," Mr. Jobs was quoted as saying in Mr. Isaacson's book "Steve Jobs."
In the case set to open this week, Apple's legal complaint aims at some of the features that Google, not Samsung, put in Android, like the ability to tap on a phone number inside a text message to dial the number. And although Google is not a defendant in this case, some of its executives are expected to testify as witnesses.
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Apple has a long history of choosing battles against what it views as copycats. In 1988, the company sued Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, claiming that software programs sold by the two companies, including Windows, infringed on Apple's copyrights on how information was presented on the Macintosh operating system. After a four-year legal struggle, Apple lost on nearly all its claims.
Apple filed its latest complaint against Samsung over two years ago in the Federal District Court in San Jose, accusing Samsung of infringing on software patents involving both the iPhone and iPad, including the "slide-to-unlock" feature for logging in, and universal search, the ability to look up items across the device and on the Internet at the same time.
For those patents, Apple wants $40 per infringing Samsung device sold in the United States. Apple lists several Samsung products that it says violated its patents, including the popular Galaxy S III, which at one point surpassed the iPhone in sales, and the Galaxy Note II.
"Instead of pursuing independent product development, Samsung slavishly copied Apple's innovative technology," Apple said in its complaint.