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Behold Samsung's "iPad" - Made in 2006
This photo frame was launched by Samsung in 2006, and if you wouldn’t know better, you’d probably think it’s an iPad, or at least a tablet that strongly resembles it. But wait a minute. If this product came out in 2006 – does that mean it’s this product that looks like an iPad, or is it the iPad that looks like this product? Does that mean Apple copied Samsung’s innovation? Should Samsung ask for injunctions on iPads all over the world now because it has the same “look and feel” as their photo frame?
Granted, they are not in the same market. The iPad is a “tablet”, while this is a “photo frame”, but it can store photos, music and movies, as well, so the similarities don’t end at just looking the same. Legally, it might not even matter if they are in different markets. I remember when Apple had to settle with Cisco for the name “iPhone”, even though Cisco was using the name for a completely different market than smartphones. So how can Apple put an injunction on the Galaxy Tab because it looks similar to the iPad, if both look like this product made by Samsung, no other, in 2006? Does Apple really own the “look and feel” of tablets then, or does Samsung?
The Patent Fantasy World
I’ve argued a couple of days ago how silly it is that the patent law (and even some judges) think it’s ok to legally block competitors from competing with your product just because their products are “similar”.
Being “similar” is what defines an entire product category. Without some kind of similarity, we wouldn’t have “tablets” we’d have just “tablet. We wouldn’t have “fridges”. We’d just have “fridge”, and so on. Entire markets would be defined by just one unique product alone. That means there wouldn’t be any “direct” competition. One company would have the monopoly over that product category in every market. Prices would be higher, and the progress for that type of product would be a lot slower, since there would be nobody offering a similar product. If everyone enforced their patents on all their competitors, and “justice” regarding this would be made swiftly, that’s exactly the type of world we would live in. And all because the patent system is so broken, and doesn’t account for how things work in the real business world.
Back to the Real World
Fortunately, for the most part, the business world doesn’t work like that. Competitors copy each other’s features all the time and they don’t even bother suing each other (even though they could, as long as they own the patents). This ends up making the progress of their products a lot faster. They *need* to stay always one step or two ahead of each other in different features, so people can still prefer them over the others. But they all copy the basic features and concepts from each other, and then they just compete on “new” innovations and differentiating factors. The prices also drop because everyone overs pretty similar products, and the quality keeps getting up. Consumers win.
But in some markets (tablet market) some competitors (Apple) will actually try to enforce their patents to block their competitors from even competing with them. The only reason that fantasy patent world I mentioned earlier doesn’t really exist is because the patents are not enforced as much as they could be by companies. But Apple seems to be trying their best to make that patent fantasy world become real, and if they succeed, all customers will be at a loss for lack of choices for “similar” products. And that includes Apple customers, because everyone loses when there’s less competition for a type of product.
Oh, and as a bonus check out this other “iPad” made 17 years ago, which I found thanks to a commenter of ours (AppleFUD).