A US jury has found Samsung guilty of infringing multiple patents belonging to Apple and has been fined $1bn. But this is only the beginning of a long, tortuous story that could have a very messy ending.
Apple’s case against Samsung was extremely complicated. But in short, Apple accused Samsung of imitating its ’trade dress’, or more simply, the look and feel of its iPhone.
Ultimately, Apple claims that Samsung’s copycatting resulted in a loss of sales for its own iPhone range. The infringement included the design of Samsung’s handsets, but also the interface elements such as its icons and basic phone behaviours.
Apple claims that Samsung willfully copied its designs and apparently, the jury agreed.
Don’t feed the trolls
Ironically, no matter which side you take, the issue is more or less the same. Apple supporters claim the win as a victory for innovation, while Samsung and Android supporters argue it’s the death knell for innovation.
As far as I’m concerned, none of them are right.
In the short term, the verdict will give further validity to the US patent system, widely acknowledged to be flawed. Arguably it gives power to numerous ‘patent trolls‘; companies that exist to protect and license patents they often have no intention of using.
Large companies have the power to fight the trolls and the money to buy them off. But everyone else is at their mercy, which can only serve to stifle small and innovative companies.
But the idea that mobile phone companies are at Apple’s mercy is a stretch. Samsung itself has already moved away from iPhone-like designs and, judging by the success of the Samsung Galaxy SIII, is no worse off for it. Microsoft has also taken an innovative direction with its Windows Phone OS, which is critically acclaimed, although sadly sales figures don’t reflect this.
Imitation or innovation?
However, I think the long term impact of the ruling will be huge. Samsung will probably appeal the verdict and some experts suggest the case will go all the way to the US Supreme Court – the highest court in the US.
And I hope it does because, whether you agree with Samsung or Apple, the argument is far larger than either company. It goes right to the heart of what can be reasonably protected and what can’t. In this case, I think Samsung appear to have verged closer to imitation than inspiration than most mobile manufacturers would dare.
But there’s a serious difference between the superficial similarities between Samsung phones and Apple’s iPhone, and the protection of what have become standard forms of touchscreen interaction. Patents for ‘pinch to zoom’ and other similar software patents are a nuisance, and the longer this saga goes on, the more likely those with the power will sit up and take notice.
Do you think that Samsung veered too close to Apple’s designs? And could this win for Apple set a dangerous precedent?