A verdict for Apple will not end the iClones
Is it hardware or software patents that might hurt Samsung most and intimidate Apple imitations?
Image via AllThingsD.
What is the measure of a tiny computer? Is it the “rectangular shape and rounded edges” of its casing? The “bounce-back effect when (you try) to scroll beyond the end of a list or (web) page”? Or is it something more, something about the device intends to do, how it does it, and how it’s sold to the people who buy it?
Those are the issues at the heart of the Apple v. Samsung court case, now entering its final week and due for a jury decision soon. And the New York Times suggests that the verdict will affect other device makers, either by scaring them from making anything resembling an Apple product or, if Apple mostly loses, emboldening them to continue using the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook as a standard. They quote analysts, they quote legal scholars, they find a few different sources to say that, indeed, if a judge declares that Samsung’s devices are too much like Apple’s devices and makes the leading Android smartphone maker hand over $2.5 billion in penalties, it could intimidate other device makers.
On the one hand: “Guys, Apple winning a $2.5 billion lawsuit over patent infringement might make big companies take notice, and the Times is on it.”.
On the other: Let’s take a look at one technical aspect of the case that is, in fact, quite interesting, especially with some knowledge of recent history.
As written in the Times story:
Simply being inspired by Apple’s products is not illegal, said Jorge Contreras, an associate professor of law at American University. He says that Apple’s claims of Samsung infringement on its design patents, a class of inventions related to the exterior look of the iPhone and iPad, are weaker than its arguments for its “utility patents” in the case, which protect various software functions.
If that’s true, then the case is less intimidating for most Android phone makers than is assumed. Of all the Android brands I’m aware of, Samsung hues the most closely to the iPhone and iPad, and there is evidence to that effect introduced in the case. Otherwise, Android devices tend to have employ some of the same principles of smartphone use as Apple—an all-touch screen, with a home screen full of app shortcuts—but not the same feature-by-feature offerings of each software product.
With most products that Apple feels are directly infringing, there’s a pattern. There’s a bold move by a copycat maker or hack tool, Apple sends a rather firm cease-and-desist, and the infringer disappears entirely. That’s been the case with knock-off Macs, Steve Jobs dolls, software work-arounds, and other maybe-they-won’t-notice schemes. But look at what happened when Google wanted its first closely monitored Android phone, the Nexus One, to have the same multi-touch gestures as that other leading smartphone. It seemed like Apple was keeping “pinch to zoom” off the market, until Google just went ahead and activated it, and, well, nothing much happened, at least in the courts.
So while the software side of Apple v. Samsung may be the most solid and influential, it also doesn’t meant that anybody is going to stop looking to Apple as a design leader any time soon. For that to happen, people would have to stopy buying their products in such quantities.