The recent verdict in Judge Lucy Koh’s court awarding $1.05 Billion damages to Apple is akin to awarding a school bully the stick to beat innocent bystanders with. The jury found in Apple’s favor on almost all the major issues of the case. However, the root of the problem rests with the US patent office and not Apple.
Apple accuses Samsung of refusing to provide fair and reasonable licensing conditions under FRAND patent terms in respect of three key patents Samsung holds that are key to a phone working with a 3G network.
Yet a number of the patents that Apple holds and accuses Samsung of breaching should in fact have never been patentable, if at all they should only have been patentable under FRAND terms themselves.
Let’s examine the first area Apple accused Samsung of “slavishly copying” the rectangular shape of the iPad? Apple, we have had rectangle TV’s, computers and laptop screens for a decade. The only option manufactures have for a tablet is either rounded or straight edges. We do not see television manufacturers in such ridiculous global legal wars over such shapes…if we did nobody would be watching television.
As far as being able to patent a design based on a rectangular shape with rounded corners is concerned, the US patent office is not fit for purpose. A rectangle is a generic shape as are either straight or rounded corners/edges – no matter what technology is housed within it. To allow Apple a design patent on such generic shapes is quite frankly stupidity of the highest order.
The only thing that might be considered a victory of sorts for Samsung was the fact that the jury hat Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 didn’t violate an Apple design patent related to the iPad.
The fact Apple used Samsung’s own internal marketing competitive analysis document against them is a testament to the ludicrousness of the court case. All companies including Samsung undertake in depth analyses of competitor products, as it is an essential part of business in a highly competitive market. It’s a pity Samsung’s legal team were perhaps a little slow in realizing that they should have done the same with reference to Apple’s internal competitor products analysis.
Patents focused on tapping an icon twice and ‘pinch and squeeze’ should be industry standards deemed essential for every smart-phone device to function properly. How else would one actually expand or minimize icons and content on their screen?
Subsequently it is TMV’s opinion that such patents should only ever be granted on a FRAND basis. The fact Apple was not forced to license such patents on fair and equal terms is a massively stupid move by the US patent office in itself.
The key issue here is that there are only a very limited number of options available to undertake such actions on a small touch screen device. For Apple to hold monopolistic patents on simple practical movements that need to be undertaken by a smart-phone user, which are generic and where there is no real alternative is quite frankly a joke and anti-business. If this happened with remote controlled TV’s nobody except the manufacturer with the patent would be producing remote control TV’s.
The issue of patents apparently protecting investment in innovation is a total red herring and as James Allworth details in the Harvard Business Review, it “is particularly relevant in the context of the Apple/Samsung trial, because it isn’t the first time Apple has been involved in a high-stakes “copying” court case. If you go back to the mid-1990s, there was the famous “look and feel” lawsuit against Microsoft. Apple’s case there was eerily similar to the one they’ve been running today: “we innovated in creating the graphical user interface; Microsoft copied us; if our competitors simply copy us, it’s impossible for us to keep innovating.” Apple ended up losing the case.
Yet despite losing that case Apple did actually innovate and came up with the iMac, followed by the iPod and iPhone, which are the core products that began Apple’s rise into becoming the most valuable company in the world that it currently is today.
So, does ‘copying’ really prevent investment in new innovations? It is a very brave person who bets against history; and history has already outlined very clearly that the copying culture does not affect investment in innovation at all. If anything, it does the complete opposite and actually encourages further innovation, as illustrated by the Microsoft versus Apple court battles of the 90’s.
However, cases like the Apple versus Samsung battle in the end only serve to negatively affect the consumer. Now consumers will have less choice and less choice is anti-competitive and anti-consumer – which is right where Apple has continually shown it likes it. Apple in the 21st Century has a monopoly in digital music, and now a monopoly in tablets and smart-phones.
How bland the world has become – the irony being that Apple has become everything its famous “1984” advertisement stated Apple users were making a stand against.