Apple vs Samsung – who really wins, or loses?

A landmark patent law decision has ordered Samsung Electronics to pay Apple Inc. $1.05 billion for copying Apple's cutting edge technology. Emerald Publishing's Ian Jones looks at the impact this ruling may have on innovation and competition both for consumers and the mobile technology industry.

I first declare my interest in the Apple v Samsung battle as that of a user, though I’m only a relatively recent convert to Apple having previously wrestled with a succession of unfulfilling Nokia and Blackberry devices. For me, the switch over was both painless and rewarding – Apple design is beautifully tactile, effortlessly usable and value adding, certainly in terms of my ‘street cred’ – not least with my children But surely most of these benefits are merely the by products or the consequence of good, innovative design features? It's what I do with the device that makes the ‘real’ impact for me.

When I first investigated this whole sorry affair it was quickly apparent that many of these user benefits are at the heart of the infringements Samsung has been accused of and is now paying for handsomely.

So, it appears that Apple will now be able to lock out all other suppliers, or as is probably the case, choose who comes in to the market … and more importantly when.

Now, having been in the publishing industry for many years… if magazine or book publishers took the same litigious view there’d be no publishing industry. The old philosophy which used to apply to taking products to market – was that you needed to be ‘first, or best, or both’ and in the absence of being either the rules changed to ‘one in all in’…. and that is why we see newsagents and bookshops (how old fashioned) full of titles that look the same, read the same, feel the same – ‘me too products’. That’s not too say there’s no innovation, far from it, but for decades publishers – all of them – have ‘borrowed’ ideas and ‘adapted’ them….

And it’s not just the publishing industry, the same observations can be made of motor manufacturing, cereal manufacturers, electrical goods manufacturing, the fashion industry, sports goods and the list goes on – see there’s a picture emerging…

Iconic design

What constitutes iconic design? Is it a Dyson, a BMW, a Porsche 911, a Bang & Olsen, a new Prada perfume, a Mulberry bag, a catwalk designer dress, anything Philip Stark, a pair of trainers or even David Beckham, to name just a few. The answer is they probably all are. And, yes there is a price to be paid for supreme iconic status and that is, that others copy you. Arguably for some of the aforementioned it's worse because counterfeit is all that most people do with their products.

Is the real issue here that Apple has just failed to accept their iconic status and get on with what they are good at, namely innovation?

Samsung are not a bunch of conmen selling fake Gucci and Prada handbags, or counterfeit perfume on the streets of London, Milan, Paris and Barcelona. They have added their own idiosyncratic value adds to using a mobile device, usability that the market demands as a benchmark of basic functionality. Where’s the crime in that?

Cool and innovative?

If Apple were really as cool as we all think they are, and as innovative as they think they are they would have merely revelled in the glory of being seen as the leaders in innovation of form and function. They would simply unveil the next innovation simply to illustrate just how far the competition has to go to keep up.

Design and fashion are both cyclical and seasonal. Normal intellectual property rules are very difficult to apply. So when does design become invention?

You might think that I’m over simplifying the whole debate. But surely, there’s a case for collective ownership of the need to be able to swipe a screen or tap an icon. This is just an idea for which there should be shared ownership. It’s what the user does with the device that will ultimately differentiate your innovative product.

Good design is the result of creative tension. As it happens I do agree with the masses that Apple are the guardians of iconic designs but no more than Ferrari, BMW, James Dyson, Philip Stark, or Stella McCartney etal.

In much the same way, that this viewpoint is mine – well kind of… the words are mine and the convictions are, but actually it's formed on the basis of things I’ve thought and things I’ve read over the past year, and the past months and weeks… these have been shaped by The Times, The Guardian, The Economist, Harvard Business Review, BBC, Sky, by Twitter and LinkedIn discussions and many others have help inform the viewpoint… does that make it unworthy… or unpublishable… ?

So, was the Supreme Court right to grant unanimous thumbs up to Apple and awarding them in excess of $1 Billion from Samsung for copying the designs of its iPhone and iPad? What precedent does this set for the future? What will be the likely impact as Google and Amazon prepare to launch into this marketplace in direct competition with Apple? One assumes we will see a range of very similar functionality across all these new devices and one would assume that Apple are already preparing for the legal dogfight ahead. And that these battles will mostly be in the area of ‘form and function’ and not the ‘operating systems’.

Personally I think it’s wrong that Apple are lording it. There’s no irony that as Apple becomes the most valuable global brand in history they send out a, ‘don’t mess with us’ message to the world. Is it really right for customer choice that usability is defended – and defendable – and that one organisation can prevent others from developing functions in the digital and handheld device market that have become a base level user requirement over the past decade?

That due legal process presided over this case and the jury found in favour of Apple, up holding most of the claims. Personally and morally I think the jury's decision was wrong for innovation and consumer choice.

Maybe this is one for the Patent Attorneys to address as much as the business lawyers.

Statements

Here’s Apple’s statement on the verdict:

"We are grateful to the jury for their service and for investing the time to listen to our story and we were thrilled to be able to finally tell it. The mountain of evidence presented during the trial showed that Samsung’s copying went far deeper than even we knew. The lawsuits between Apple and Samsung were about much more than patents or money. They were about values. At Apple, we value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on earth. We make these products to delight our customers, not for our competitors to flagrantly copy. We applaud the courtfor finding Samsung’s behaviour wilfull and for sending a loud and clear message that stealing isn’t right."

This is what Samsung had to say:

"Today’s verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer. It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices. It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners, or technology that is being improved every day by Samsung and other companies. Consumers have the right to choices, and they know what they are buying when they purchase Samsung products. This is not the final word in this case or in battles being waged in courts and tribunals around the world, some of which have already rejected many of Apple’s claims. Samsung will continue to innovate and offer choices for the consumer."

 

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