By Christina Bonnington August 24, 2012 | 10:05 pm |
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA — The jury in the landmark intellectual property case Apple v. Samsung ruled overwhelmingly in favor of Apple on Friday, awarding the iPhone maker approximately $1.05 billion in damages. Although that figure is impressive on its own, the jury’s Apple-friendly design and utility patent rulings could have an even larger effect on the mobile industry and the world’s consumers. That means you.
Samsung was quick to issue a comment to that effect. “Today’s verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer,” Samsung said in an official statement. “It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices.”
Indeed, since the jury deemed Apple’s iPhone-related design patents and user interface patents infringed across such a wide spectrum of products, other handset makers — Android manufacturers, in particular — may find themselves in Apple’s sights for future patent litigation.
“The result will likely be an increase in costs to Android users because of licensing fees to Apple,” Houston-based intellectual property lawyer Steve Mitby told Wired. In layman’s terms: expect Android phones to cost more. “This will drive many Android consumers over to Apple. Next to Samsung, the biggest loser today is Google.”
Android handset makers could also find themselves having a difficult time designing around some of these patent claims. But as Apple’s closing arguments showed, it’s not impossible: products like the Nokia Lumia and Xperia Arc S were cited as models of functional alternative designs to that of the iPhone. Perhaps we could even be pleasantly surprised by the influx of diversity to the smartphone space. But unfortunately, you can’t really “force” invention.
“Big leaps forward are rare; most innovation occurs in increments,” Indiana University law professor and author of Illuminating Innovation: From Patent Racing to Patent War Lea Shaver told Wired via email. “Allowing companies to take a good product and make it better and cheaper is good for consumers. But the patent lawyers won today.”
That said, many of the UI features that were found to violate Apple patents have since been adjusted in more recent updates of Samsung’s user interface, and in Android. That’s part of why the jurors were asked not to update the devices used in evidence. Android users don’t need to worry about, say, their phones suddenly failing to work properly or powering up with a completely redesigned UI update.
Samsung will almost certainly appeal the jury’s decision in the case to the Federal Circuit, the Washington, DC-based appeals court that hears IP-related appeals. “The Federal Circuit has a history of scaling back big damages awards, which may spell trouble for Apple’s $1 billion in past damages,” Mitby said. ”However, on the core issues of infringement and validity, the Federal Circuit is less likely to reverse. So even if Samsung is able to reduce the monetary award, the jury’s decision spells trouble for the future of Samsung’s product line –- which is an even bigger financial issue for Samsung.”
And that’s not all. Apple plans to file a temporary injunction against Samsung’s infringing products. If granted, Apple could ban its key competitor from the market for months, if not years. In that instance, it would be far cheaper, and far wiser, for Samsung to continue pouring money into its attorneys’ pockets in an effort to overturn the ruling as soon as possible, rather than write a billion dollar paycheck to Apple and lose out on millions in sales of flagship products. But the whole process — appeals, injunctions — will move slowly, so don’t expect Samsung products to disappear from store shelves overnight.
“The court is going to be busy with this post-trial discussion and various motions for weeks, maybe longer,” Shaver said. Samsung then gets 30 days to file an appeal, and it will probably use all of that time. “Appellate courts work slowly… Just to hear from the Federal Circuit could take a year and a half. This is a case it would not surprise me if the Supreme Court takes, so there may not be a truly final decision for years.”
Curiously, the jury didn’t find any design infringement on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab products, so all those iPad copycats you see cropping up are safe (for now).
Regardless, today’s decision is a resounding win for everyone on team Apple.
“The lawsuits between Apple and Samsung were about much more than patents or money. They were about values,” Apple spokesperson Katie Cotton told the New York Times. “At Apple, we value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on earth. We make these products to delight our customers, not for our competitors to flagrantly copy. We applaud the court for finding Samsung’s behavior willful and for sending a loud and clear message that stealing isn’t right.”
Unfortunately, consumers will begin inadvertently paying the bill for upholding these values at some point. “When companies turn to litigation rather than innovation, consumers lose,” Shaver said.