It’s been an eventful week, most especially because of the two tech giants going at each other’s throats in court. As many of you probably already know, Apple took Samsung to court for infringing on a whole bunch of patents, and it won, with Apple being awarded $1,049,343,540 in damages. In case your eyes got crossed up trying to count the number of digits, that’s a little less than $1.05 BILLION. Comically enough, Apple originally wanted to be awarded $2.5 billion in damages. Still, that’s a big number no matter how you look at it. So what went down that led to that ruling?
Just a quick recap. The jury was over seven of Apple’s tech and design patents, which Samsung was accused of violating. Some of these patents include the bounceback patent, which covers how a scroll menu would behave once you scrolled to the beginning or end of a menu; the pinch-and-zoom patent; the homescreen GUI; and the design patents that covered the shape and contours of the iPhone. Not only did the jury find that Samsung willingly infringe on 5 out of 7 of Apple’s patents, but also found the validity of these patents to be valid. That alone is a huge blow, not just to Samsung, but to every other cellphone manufacturer out there.
The jury arrived at the verdict in 23 hours and 37 minutes, which is less than a day. Pretty quick, if you ask me, and there was plenty of speculation in that regard. However, members of the jury asserted that the decision wasn’t rushed at all, and they certainly weren’t misinformed. According to Juror Manuel Ilagan, there were a number of specific instances of willful infringement that couldn’t be overlooked. One was the emails between Samsung executives themselves as to what features should be incorporated into their devices. Another was the comparison between phones Samsung had made both prior to the original iPhone and afterwards. Also, when Samsung executives were presented on video as testimony, it seemed as if they were dodging important questions rather than directly answering them. The Jury foreman, Velvin Hogan, also felt that the infringement was intentional, which is why they as jurors felt it was necessary not to “..give carte blanche to a company, by any name, to infringe someone else’s intellectual property.”
While I hate that Samsung lost over incredibly vague patents that cover basic aspects of design (rounded rectangles) and gesture control (pinch to zoom; bounceback), I certainly won’t question the jurors reasoning. However this does bring to question the patent system itself. Apple’s victory means that the implementation of certain basic UI functionality is now owned by Apple. Anyone looking to replicate that kind of functionality would have a hard time trying to get around any conflicts or risk being sued. Should things like swiping to the left, right, up or down even be patented? Because pinching to zoom in or out certainly is. So how would you even use a touchscreen device without such gestures? Would the competition have to take a step back and resort to full time use of a stylus? I cringe at the thought.
Many believe that Apple went after Samsung as an example, and being the most successful in Android smartphone market share, you couldn’t get much bigger. But after this, will it really stop there? After all, Samsung is far from being the only one to have bounceback on their scroll menus, and it’s safe to say that a lot of Android smartphones and tablets feature rectangles with rounded corners. And other manufacturers certainly won’t allow themselves to just get pushed over. They’ll be arming themselves to the teeth and defending themselves with their own portfolio of patents. The result? A whole lot of time and money wasted on litigation than on actual innovation. And a good likelihood that the next non-Apple smartphone or tablet will look something like this: