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Apple's $1 billion patent win against Samsung: first thoughts

In light of the court's decision, and the points presented by both Apple and Samsung, what clearly comes to light is the role of patents in innovation, and the extent to which businesses can take liberties at existing intellectual property and work these to their own goals. We weigh in with our thoughts, with the focus of whether the verdict can result in better innovation for Android and the smartphone industry in the long run.
August 25, 2012

Apple has just made a clean sweep in its patent lawsuit against Apple. Basically, Apple won on all fronts, as the jury has declared Samsung infringed on two design patents that covered almost all of Samsung’s Android smartphones. Samsung was also found to have diluted the “trade dress” of Apple’s iPhone, which refers to the product’s visual branding.

As such, Samsung is ordered to pay $1,049,343,540 in damages.

Meanwhile in Samsung’s counter-claim against Apple, the jury decided that Apple owed Samsung nothing. It goes without saying that Apple is pleased with the turnout, and that Samsung is disappointed. Here are a few initial thoughts from both parties.

Apple made a statement through spokeswoman Katie Cotton:

  • The evidence presented showed that Samsung’s copying “went far deeper than even we knew.”
  • Patent lawsuit was about more than just money. They were more about values.
  • “We value originality … making the best products on earth.”
  • Apple applauds the court’s findings and stresses the message that “stealing isn’t right.”

Meanwhile, Samsung Electronics issued a statement:

  • The verdict is a “win for Apple, but a loss for the American consumer.”
  • The verdict will lead to “fewer choices, less innovation and potentially higher prices.”
  • Patent law can be manipulated to give one company a “monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners.”
  • Samsung and other companies improve on technology.
  • Consumers have the right to choose, and have the ability to know the product they are buying.
  • Other tribunals and courts around the world have already rejected many of Apple’s claims.

Basically, the $1 billion verdict is the largest patent verdict in history, and even with the billions made in Samsung smartphone sales, this is no small change. There is still the question of whether the verdict will result in a ban or recall on Samsung smartphones.

Samsung is adamant at “continu[ing] to innovate and offer choices for the consumer,” although we’re not sure at this point if they will choose to appeal the court and jury’s decision.

Can you be more innovative?

In light of the court’s decision, and the points presented by both Apple and Samsung, what clearly comes to light is the role of patents in innovation, and the extent to which businesses can take liberties at existing intellectual property and work these to their own goals.

I agree with Samsung that for consumers, having a choice is good. I cannot imagine a world in which there is only one dominant smartphone platform that’s not exactly conducive for productivity. If no one challenged the smartphone ideals of the early 2000’s we would still be using clunky Windows-like interfaces on small screens. Or, we’d still be suffering with textinitis from multi-tapping words on a numeric keypad.

I have to give it to Samsung that using patents to monopolize an industry is not exactly good, and that having no competition would result in expensive products.

However, inventors do need to have a reason for innovating. If anyone can just go about copying other products and ideas, then inventors and innovators would cease to find better ways to do things.

They key point here is the merit in Apple’s ownership of their design patents, and why it was not acceptable for a third-party to simply copy these concepts. While I would agree that patent trolling is a questionable enterprise, it’s not as if Apple did not actually have products in the market that use their patented designs.

Samsung could have simply paid to license these patents (which Apple said they offered in 2010). They would have then owed $250 million, which is still a small amount compared to $1 billion and potential product bans.

Or more importantly, they could have gone ahead and made innovations of their own.

It’s not just about rectangles

Samsung has cried that the patent war was about “rectangles with rounded corners.” But what about the other design aspects of Galaxy smartphones? The court says Samsung has diluted the iPhone’s “trade dress” by making their smartphones look like Apple’s. The market response to Samsung’s Android phones is overwhelmingly great, and they are now the dominant brand in Android devices, far overtaking early adopters like HTC and Motorola.

But Samsung could have done better. In Ron Amadeo’s recent review of the Galaxy Note 10.1 on Android Police, he argues that Samsung has gone lazy in producing its Galaxy Note 10.1. It’s almost like Samsung has grown arrogant. “We’re Samsung. You slobs will buy anything we crap out. We don’t have to try, we don’t even need the latest components. You’ll buy it no matter what.”

Amadeo then wonders whether the mobile division is “run by passionless, cost-cutting bean-counters.”

Samsung has all the resources to make great products. Its Series 9 ultrabook uses a special aluminum alloy called Duralum. Samsung manufactures the new iPad’s retina display. Samsung has developed a 20-megapixel CMOS sensor built into its compact NX200 camera.

The big question is why haven’t innovations like these have not made their way into the Galaxy smartphone or tablet series.

I don’t pretend to be a patent lawyer, nor do I love everything that Apple does. But the disappointment for me is that Samsung could have done better in terms of innovation. I hope that the guilty verdict will be good for the smartphone and tablet industry in the long run — especially for Samsung. This might force Samsung to rethink their mobile strategy and perhaps focus on releasing even better phones and tablets in the future.

Any thoughts? We’d love to hear whether you agree or disagree with the verdict, and more importantly, what you think these will mean for us smartphone users.

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