Calm down Apple haters/fanboys. Let’s have an educated discussion about the patent trial results.
For those that haven’t heard, Apple just won a massive case against Samsung. Apple charged Samsung with copying a large number of Apple’s design patents relating the iPad, iPhone, iOS, and even the packaging for these devices. The jury ruled in favor of Apple on almost all accounts, meaning that Apple was able to accurately and effectively prove in court that Samsung had infringed on almost all of their existing patents. They will be rewarded over a billion dollars if Samsung’s inevitable appeals don’t hold their footing.
I have been browsing a good number of websites that have coverage of the case, and as and expected, the opinions of readers are pretty much split into two categories. There are those who agree with the jury’s decision and believe that this case will be important in making future companies think twice before copying ideas that aren’t their own, and those who think this is a terrible tragedy that will negatively impact consumers everywhere. I am in the former group, and not because I’m an Apple “fanboy”. It may come as a shock to you, but I’ve never owned a Mac, and probably never will. I am a gamer, and I appreciate the flexibility of owning a PC that I can upgrade and customize to my heart’s content. I own an iPhone, and also an iPad that I didn’t pay for (I wouldn’t have bought one with my own money). If you are in the latter group, I would encourage you to read on with an open mind, and I absolutely encourage educated and researched discussion below if you disagree!
I don’t think I’m crazy in saying that, whether you agree with the outcome of the Apple vs Samsung case or not, it’s hard to deny that Samsung’s modern devices bare a strong resemblance to Apple’s devices. Many of their mobile devices, product packaging, and even the recently opened Samsung store make it very difficult to not think “Apple” when you see them. In fact, Samsung’s Apple-copying antics have become so obvious that they’ve been joked about on broadcast television on more than one occasion. I think we can agree that there are visual similarities between Samsung’s products and Apple’s, but that doesn’t prove that they purposely “copied” Apple. Nope, that’s where Samsung’s 2010 report detailing exactly how Samsung devices should be changed to be more like the iPhone comes into play. This and plenty of other pieces of evidence that were introduced during the trial all show that Samsung was well aware of why their devices were failing to capture the market; because they weren’t enough like Apple devices. Or rather, that’s what Samsung believed.
Do I believe that the US patent system works well without need for reform? Absolutely not, but I don’t intend for this article to be a debate about the validity of the current patent system or the need for a new one. Even if the patent system is changed over the years, the core idea of trying to protect innovation and creativity will remain. Holding a patent doesn’t mean that you are the only company that can use the patented idea. It simply means that if other companies want to use the idea, they will need to pay to license it from you. Apple offered their portfolio of patents to Samsung for $30 per phone and $40 per tablet. Samsung refused. $30-$40 per device may seems steep, but think about how profitable it can be to have Apple’s design and technology in your product. It’s no mystery that Apple devices sell insanely well. In fact, Apple’s profits from their iOS devices has doubled the previous year’s profits since the launch of the first iPhone. If another company wants a piece of the pie while it’s hot, why shouldn’t they have to pay a premium price for features that users have come to expect in their mobile devices? If licensing Apple patents means you are going to sell more of your product, thus making more money, why is it such a bad thing to pay for that opportunity?
Apple won, but will the rest of us lose?
Since the Apple vs Samsung case reached it’s verdict much discussion has been made on how this case will effect the electronics industry, and ultimately, how it will effect consumers in the long run. I have read a lot of comments, from popular technology blogs to my own Facebook wall, from people who say that this decision is going to really screw over consumers. In fact, Samsung’s own statement seems to share that idea:
“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.”
I’m not sure I understand this line of thinking. If I read correctly, Samsung is saying that by not being allowed to copy Apple’s design patents, the court is taking away the consumer’s right to choose different products? If you haven’t been to a mobile phone store in a while, let me describe the product line up to you: there are a bunch of devices with a large touchscreen on one side that is filled with little app icons arranged in rows. There is very little choice at all when it comes to buying a mobile phone these days. There used to be a wide variety of types of devices: flip phones, slide phones, phones with small screens, phones with large screens, all-in-one phones, standalone mobile phones, etc. Now there are touchscreen “dumb phones” and touchscreen smart phones, and that’s about it, save for a few extremely low-end models that are still offered.
This lack of real “choice” came about soon after the iPhone launched, and has persisted ever since. If anything, this court decision will have the exact opposite effect on the industry. Rather than pumping out Apple knock-off devices, manufacturers are going to start thinking twice about the products they release. Will this court case strike fear in the hearts of other mobile phone developers? Hell yes, but it’s that “fear” that will force manufacturers to take their products back to the drawing board to start truly innovating. This court decision won’t hurt consumers in the future, it will improve their experience by providing them with a variety of new and innovative products to choose from.
In the last line of Samsung’s statement they state that they will “continue to innovate offer choices for the consumer.” I really hope this is true, because if Samsung and other Apple competitors choose to start truly innovating with their products Apple may be in trouble in the years to come. I believe full-well that Apple will continue their trend of developing products that we don’t know we need until we use them, but I for one would prefer that other companies follow Apple’s lead rather than following their product ideas. I have many friends that have grown tired of the limits of iOS and the fact that it can take Apple years to add features that other mobile operating systems (read: Android) have had from the start. If a company like Samsung, HTC, or Microsoft comes out with a truly innovative product that becomes a new standard in it’s genre, I will have no qualms about supporting them in their endeavors.
Apple isn’t the only innovator!
Some companies are already looking to the future with their products. Take Google’s Project Glass for instance. Sure it’s come under scrutiny the same way the iPhone did was it was first announced, but I have to applaud Google for taking a big step in developing a product that very well may be as big a part of our lives in the future as tablets and smart phones are today. Who knows? Maybe “smart glasses” will replace these devices in the future! I also need to tip my hat to Microsoft. Their Windows Phone 7/Metro/Windows 8/whatever-they’re-calling-it-now tablet OS looks great, and is proof that you don’t have to copy Apple to come up with something useful and appealing on your own. Microsoft’s Surface keyboard cover is also a really cool concept. Who knows? There might even be engineers at Apple that are kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.
All that to say, innovation is not dead in the tech industry. There has been an evident down curve in seeing creative new products released over the past few years, as manufactures have scrambled to try to match Apple’s powerhouse products to turn a profit, but that doesn’t mean that none exist or that a group of dedicated engineers aren’t working on the “next big thing” as I write this. Apple’s victory against Samsung won’t hold back technology or take away the ability of consumers to choose for themselves. It will actually have the opposite effect. In the end, it is you, the consumer, that wins along side Apple. This case has shown a lot of things, from flaws in the patent system to shady practices that almost all manufacturers are guilty of at some point. But to me, the biggest takeaway from this historic event is that true creativity and innovation should always win over imitation.
Say what you will about Apple, and say what you will about America’s convoluted patent system, but when one of the most innovative companies in the world can successfully defend themselves from being copied by one of the largest companies in the world, it brings a smile to face. Here’s hoping that tech companies of the world can rise to the occasion to create innovative products that can outclass even Apple’s brightest stars.
I’ve had an iPhone since day one, and I’m ready for something different, something better. Who’s up to the challenge?