By Debby Winters
A California Court recently found Samsung, the Korean electronics giant, guilty of infringing Apple’s patents and ordered it to pay $1.05 billion in damages. If this huge damage award holds up on appeal, it will stand as the largest patent verdict of all time. But, more important than the amount of money awarded, it gives Apple a huge leg-up in the corporate patent wars, and it immeasurably strengthens the company’s negotiating position with regard to the Android phones it is struggling against.
Although, according to the jury verdict, Apple is the inventor of most of the technology in these smartphones, Samsung has been the number one seller of them in the U.S. in the past few years. This verdict will surely alter the balance of power.
Another twist in the story is that Samsung claims that Apple stole the technology from it and others, such as Motorola, and HTC, in the first place. Samsung claims that technology similar to Apple’s pinch-to-zoom function already existed when Apple was granted its patent, the company is arguing that Prior Art should render Apple’s patent invalid. Samsung has won verdicts against Apple in lawsuits it file against the mobile device giant in Japan. This verdict also follows closely after a South Korean court decided that both companies infringed each others’ patents, a ruling seen to favor Samsung. However, the US battle is the centerpiece of the worldwide legal battle between the two smartphone companies, and is by far the most significant.
It is a fact that Apple is known for suing other companies voraciously over “stolen” property, and currently has lawsuits going with just about every company that has entered the mobile device market. Want to make it even more complicated? Currently, the Android platform is under attack from a number of other companies in addition to Apple. These companies have been forced into licensing agreements due to alleged patent infringements. So, who really invented this technology? And what’s the big deal, anyway?
For starters, Apple’s ultimate target is not Samsung, but Google, because Google created the Android operating system (OS) that runs on Samsung smartphones. Steve Jobs thought Android was a rip-off of Apple products, and vowed to declare “thermonuclear war” on the competing OS. It will be interesting to see what the results of Jobs’ promised nuclear attack will be.
There’s a danger that Samsung products could be kicked off the market following this huge verdict. Apple has portrayed Samsung as an enthusiastic copycat that took a shortcut to profits, engaging in a three-month copying spree that piggybacked on the years of hard work it took Apple to create the iPhone. Samsung, meanwhile, denied those copying allegations, and accused Apple of being a courtroom bully that refused to compete in the marketplace. Negotiating a license agreement between th
e two companies from the beginning could have resolved all of these problems, and may be what it will take in the end, if the infringement verdict is upheld.
How the jury made its decision is another interesting facet in the complicated twist. Each member of the jury was given access to one of each of the accused phones, which could be turned on and used, but did not have Internet access. Based on their own usage, they found infringement of Apple’s patents that cover features like double-tapping to zoom, the “bounce back” technology that snaps images back into place, as well as the contours and shape of the iPhone. Traditionally, jurors are not allowed to bring “model’s” into the deliberation room but as we all know, times are changing!