What has been referred to as the Tech Trial of the decade, Samsung and Apple had sued each other for patent infringement and the court and a jury were tasked with determining whether or not Apples Trade Dress had been copied by Samsung. The trial was kept very short and as a result the verdict is in: Samsung were judged by the jury as having infringed and they should pay upwards of $1B USD in penalties.
It’s a landmark result and sends a clear message to the technology industry at large: you need to differentiate your products more or you may suffer the same fate. There is no doubt in my mind that Samsung have many talented engineers and programmers and together they have created some excellent products. The same is true of Nokia, Motorola, HTC and so on. Most people that have used a Samsung smartphone recently can not deny the similarities with iOS and Apple’s products. These similarities go beyond their Android OS basis but specifically TouchWiz - which is Samsungs layer on top of Android.
The fundamental argument that Samsung did nothing wrong seems to be based on the idea that copying can form part of new product development and there are only so many ways for a touch-based device to work. The point is that Apple spent years and millions of dollars developing their product and whilst it isn’t perfect, contains many highly tuned design concepts that Samsung then copied for little such time investment.
What Apple is said to have done wrong is stifled competition and used litigation rather than create new products. How is this true if other competitors are still successful in the mobile space that haven’t infringed Apples Trade Dress?
Another point to be made is that the public at large is more familiar with Apple than they are Samsung - brand recognition surveys have shown this many times in the last two years. They represent success and the underdog comeback in America - at least for the moment. No jury could or would be able to be completely objective about Apples stance. In the end it was going to be difficult for a jury to be fair in assessing this case - fair to Samsung that is.
So where does that leave us? There was enough mud in the waters to have made the result less clear-cut that is certain. Were Apple and Samsungs brand popularities in the common market reversed would the result have been different? I would say yes. Did Samsung deserve to be punished? Again, I would say yes. Did they deserve such a big fine? That is hard to tell.
Whether parallel timelines and universes exist or not, it is currently impossible to know what would have happened to Samsungs success (or not) with their devices if they used an alternative platform like Windows Phone 7. Given that, how can anyone be sure how much their actions impacted Apples success? Also, just how many people chose Samsung phones because they were cheaper, pushed by carriers or bought in 2 for 1 deals and don’t care how it looks or works, rather than “it’s just like an iPhone and that’s why I bought it” that Apple would have us believe? Again, how can this be determined?
One thing is for certain, technology companies have never been more motivated not to step on each others patents. If Apple takes this win and pushes for more blood with other companies, my opinion of them will drop and it will probably hurt their image in the consumer market. The judgement should be a warning. Samsung should pay, remove the offending material, and everyone should move on and continue to innovate on their own terms.