Whose Right Is It Anyway?

$1.04 Billion, and a possible injunction on 8 bestselling Samsung devices. This is the price Samsung has to pay in the US for infringing Apple’s design related patents. Samsung is expected to appeal again citing inconsistencies in the jury verdict, but the truth remains that Samsung has been caught in the act.

Ever since Steve Jobs vowed to “go thermonuclear” on Android, there has been a string of law suits flying across attempting to sue Android OEMs around the world. Most notable among them is Samsung. The story of Samsung’s emergence as the largest seller of mobile phones is fascinating. They were one among the many in a very cluttered market which was at that time led by Nokia. Enter Apple with its game changing iPhone in 2007, and the topography of the market changed faster than Chuck Norris punches the bad guys. Apple didn’t take too long to emerge as the market leader in the smartphone segment. With a very intuitive UI and a beautiful design, it would not be a stretch to claim that the iPhone changed the way mobile phones are made and perceived. It didn’t take too long for the competition to catch up, and in some cases, even mimic (*cough* Samsung *cough*) the iPhone.

Samsung launched its first ever Android based phone, i7500, in April 2009. It is not until 2010 did Samsung launch its flagship device, the i9000, or more popularly known as the Galaxy S. Which is when the trouble began. The Galaxy S derives a lot of inspiration from the iPhone’s design, and the similarity is striking. Even the UI elements of Samsung’s touchwiz have been tweaked to match that of the iOS. To Samsung’s credit, the Galaxy S series wonderful hardware and great specifications. Though I have a bone to pick about (all) Samsung devices’ build quality, which is astonishingly bad for all its flagship devices.

There has been a lot of talk about how the patent system, specially related to software is broken. Part of it is true. The existing FRAND licensing is as confusing and ambiguous as a Manoj Night Shyamalan movie. Just a few days before the trial in US went in Apple’s favour, a South Korean court found that both Apple and Samsung have been infringing patents. There is definitely a need for a widespread discussion and redrafting of the current system. But before that, let us also acknowledge that Apple has been innovating, and Samsung did indeed take the easy route by borrowing from Apple’s successful works. As Apple’s lawyers pointed out during the closing remarks, it is possible to make good looking smart phones which do not look like the iPhone, while referring to the Xperia Arc and Nokia Lumia. Samsung argued that the designs which they have been accused of copying are “obvious”. If a design seems “obvious”, it only means that a great level detail and work was put in by the designers and developers.

Intellectual Property has to be protected at all costs, and only then will real innovation happen. Samsung promised to “continue to innovate and offer choices for the consumer” after the verdict was delivered, and there is good reason to believe that they will. Barring the Apple vs Samsung suit, Samsung has indeed been one of the most innovative technology companies in the world with their product portfolio ranging from semiconductors (which power the iPhone) to building great displays. Patent wars are being fought all over. Electronic Arts has filed a lawsuit against Zynga claiming Copyright Infringment, Motorola claims Apple has infringed 7 of its patents and the list goes on. When all the major players like Apple, Google, Samsung, HTC, Nokia and Motorola are involved in a court case, it does not bode well for the industry, and the consumer, by extension.

For the greater good (seriously, we could do with slightly less expensive phones), it is best all the parties involved get into their conference rooms and discuss how to play fair, innovate, and please the customer.

PS: The next two months seem to be very promising. Apple is expected to make some announcements about a mystery device which makes phone calls and capture unicorns, Nokia just launched a few phones, Motorola announced a few meteor-proof phones, Windows is launching its much awaited Windows 8 in October (Fun Fact: Apparently, the Blue Screen of Death is now Black Screen of Death. So it is still BsoD. Talk about backward compatibility.) and Google is expected to announce its next Nexus device on Key Lime Pie. Which one are you looking forward to?

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About the Author: Shannon Lewis

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