In a trial that has been called an ‘illustration of the absurdity of the U.S. patent system’ by Businessinsider.com, we saw Apple sue Samsung for various patent violations (some of which were indeed laughable) to do with suspicious similarities between the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (among other devices) and the iPhone. It was probably a wise decision to take the legal route with the Galaxy Nexus said to be the ‘better’ smartphone by some. With a win on their hands Apple can certainly let out a sigh of relief at the avoidance of what could have potentially taken a big bite out of their market share if other developers jumped on the ‘copy-cat’ bandwagon.
It began as a demand for a preliminary injunction that would stop Samsung from selling the Galaxy Nexus with the rip-off claims including the copying of the ‘slide-to-unlock’ feature on the touch screen; the ability to do multiple searches at once (like Siri does when asked a question); detecting phone numbers in emails and tapping the number to make the call from within the mail and a built-in spell-check function with suggested alternatives. The nitty-grittiness of some of the complaints does seem a little absurd and it’s a wonder that Apple was able to patent some of these in the first instance. According to an article in Businessinsider.com earlier this year -“The search-multiple-sources and auto-suggest have obviously been used on the web and in word-processing programs for years, but perhaps our patent system is ridiculous enough to confine a patent to mobile use.”
But it’s not just the Nexus, Apple claims there were general infringements on their look, ‘feel’ and intellectual property across Samsung’s product range – the Samsung Captivate, Continuum, Vibrant, Galaxy S 4G, Epic 4G, Indulge, Mesmerize, Showcase, Fascinate, Nexus S, Gem, Transform, Intercept, Acclaim phones and the Galaxy Tab. Mentioned issues here include seven utility patents, three design patents, iOS trademarks, app icons, trade dress (basically the way the product looks), even down to the packaging.
There were sixteen claims in total and the jury was swayed in Apple’s favour for the majority of them, awarding them over $1billion, which wasn’t the $2.7billion they had asked for but in contrast Samsung didn’t get a single dollar of the $421 million they countersued for. Notable evidence in the case came in the form of internal documents in which Samsung had placed images of iPhones and a Galaxy smartphone prototype side-by-side in a bid to make amendments that would make their device more similar to the existing iPhone.
What this means for us
The landmark case makes clear definitions between ‘inspiration’ and ‘copying’ and will have anyone developing a phone or tablet in the future a little wary. It means that innovators and creators of dynamic products will be protected in the future and that’s a good thing. However, consumers will be getting a fresh whiff of market monopoly – why on earth should new products not expand on great technological advances if these are available? We’ll all suffer if software companies are too scared to improve on iOS systems and give us the best they can do considering what’s already out there. On the other hand anything that comes out after this will be quite exciting, we can expect brand new interfaces with fresh icons, new shapes (the ‘copy-cat’ rectangular shapes of the Samsung smartphones were also in contention) and of course awe-inspiring functionality – whenever someone comes up with these. Until then we can expect the offending products to be banned and Samsung to engage in a countersue do-over. Watch this space.