Apple vs. Samsung Infringement Trial: Dangerous Sparks from Litigation Minefield
There is no doubt that the intensity of patent wars among the smartphone manufacturers, is, now, in ascending order of ugliness. It hit a crucial peak - one in many - on Friday when a court in California awarded Apple a hefty sum of $1.05billion in damages from Samsung, the Korean electronics giant, for infringing on the patents of the former.
The trial, in question, was just about seven patents – 4 design patents and 3 software patents; given the enormous amount of the patents that Apple owns under its brand and the inevitable momentum that the company derives from the victory, it is clear that this trial is neither going be the last nor a one-off.
And then, in addition to launching an appeal against the ruling, in all probability, Samsung may strike back in kind – perhaps, launching a counter allegation against Apple along the same lines – embracing the familiar recent trend in patent wars. After all, Samsung cannot afford to be branded as a ‘copycat’, as the stakes cannot be any higher for its global reputation as a company with the innovation at its heart.
After just three-days of deliberations and digesting a 109-page document, the 9-person federal Jury reached a unanimous verdict on Friday: Samsung violated Apple patents by copying some features of iPad and iPhone. So, the judge had no choice but to give the ruling that cost Samsung a monumental sum in monetary terms - and leaving a serious dent in the brand Samsung by implication.
The sum awarded for Apple was less than half of what it was stubbornly pursuing in the trial; the jury agreed with only six of patent violations, out of seven that Samsung was accused of violating. A sum of over one billion dollars may not be welcome by the coffers of Apple, the most valuable technology company in the world, with fanfare; nor is it a drop in the ocean, even for a company of Apple’s calibre.
As for Samsung, however, it certainly is more than a bruise, given the difficulties it overcame before reaching where it is now – and even to pose a formidable threat to Apple. With the damages of this magnitude, if it was another smartphone company, it would have gone bust by the destructive impact of this verdict.
On the surface, it seems to be a case of Apple winning over Samsung. However, the latter is certainly going to pass it on to the easiest recipients of the cost, its own loyal customers, at some point. So, the real losers are going to be the customers in the end, when a fraction of the money that Samsung lost is added to the price of its popular handsets by stealth; it is beggars belief that the shareholders would happily come forward to shoulder the burden.
With this ruling, there are plenty of folks – academics, innovators, lawyers and even innovators – who openly question about the relevance of a patent office in a country - when the disputes of this nature are left at the mercy of courts for sorting out - are alarmingly on the rise. There are more than a quarter of a million patents involving smartphones alone, each with its own diving board to take a costly plunge in litigation pool.
Even in the US, according to a judge in a similar case earlier on, the patent system is in chaos. Having been inhibited by the lack of manpower, the patent office is often accused of granting patents for trivial innovations, as a way of easing its own bureaucratic burden. In short, there should not have been this many patents involving smartphone manufacturers.
As far as the smartphone-patents are concerned, depending on how thing are going to evolve from this ruling, the system can either be an epitaph for insatiable human greed or an illustrious monument for human innovation.
According to seasoned technology analysts, Samsung in this case is a cheap form of red-herring, as far as Apple is concerned. After dealing a crippling blow to Samsung, its most formidable rival in the making, the latter is slowly getting the big fish on its crosshairs, Google.
Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, hated Google so much even in his dying days that he once said, he would spend every cent of Apple’s then $48 billion cash mountain to destroy Google for copying Apple’s OS operating system to produce Google’s Android system; Samsung smartphones are powered by Google’s Android operating system. Patent wars, therefore, are far from over and litigation threats are hovering over every single device.
When patent battles pop up like mushrooms in the western world, it is not just technological innovations which are at stake; the concept of Intellectual Property in its entirety has been called into question: is it relevant? has it evolved in line with geo-political developments? or, is it going to collapse under the weight of its own aspirations?
It is interesting to note, meanwhile, it was an American jury that delivered their decision in favour of an American company on the US soil. A Korean judge in South Korea, in a similar case, ruled otherwise: Samsung did not violate Apple patents, but copied a functional design. There are ample reasons, therefore, even for the ardent advocates of Intellectual Property, to believe that the concept needs a moral and political equivalent of a radical overhaul.
Otherwise, there are plenty of people who are prepared to be up in arms against a system which is seen as a body just to strengthen the position of powerful incumbents at the expense of feeble competitors – one among its many flaws.
- Asian Tribune -