While the patent wars between the various smartphone and tablet manufacturers (Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Google) have been raging for a while, there are a few recent stories that deserve a quick mention for being plain hilarious to downright ridiculous.
SAMSUNG v. APPLE IN THE U.S.
One might remember the order of a U.S. District Court late last month that granted Apple a preliminary injunction against Samsung for the sale of the Samsung Galaxy 10.1 tablet. Judge Koh remarked that there was enough evidence that Samsung copied the ‘look and feel’ of Apple’s iPad to stop the sale of the Samsung tablet. It’s interesting to note however that the injunction does not cover the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 (which is rumoured to have been specifically designed to beat Apple’s patent infringement claims strategy) which is its current flagship product.
That covers tablets. But with smartphones bringing in the bulk of revenue these days, Apple’s patent strategy isn’t limited to the larger form factor alone. The same judge in late June 2012, also granted an injunction against Samsung’s Nexus phone. While the U.S. Court of appeals has accepted Samsung’s request for an expedited appeals hearing in that case, the issue is far from settled and Apple’s lawyers have been busy trying to prevent the phone’s sales in the U.S.
Let’s keep in mind the fact that the actual U.S. trial for the patent infringement suit being filed by Apple against Samsung is set to begin on July 30th. It is interesting to note that Judge Koh has held the results of the pre-trial injunction hearings to be of ‘little value’ in the actual trial. Thus, despite Samsung’s recent string of losses in the injunction battle, it is unlikely to be prejudiced if it can advance suitable evidence that it did not infringe Apple’s patents.
SAMSUNG V. APPLE IN THE U.K.
Perhaps Samsung can take the assistance of a U.K. court order on the same issue to demonstrate that it didn’t in fact infringe Apple’s patents in designing its flagship tablet and smartphone. But this will come at the cost of prestige, unfortunately.
In a ruling sure to excite the typical Apple fanboy, a U.K. judge held Samsung to not be infringing Apple’s product patents on the iPad since the Galaxy products were ‘not as cool’ as Apple’s. While Apple can take solace in the fact that its core marketing strategy – the ‘cool quotient’, appears to have been noticed by the sitting judge, in a legal suit, this was of little value since the judge dismissed the patent infringement claim for precisely this reason. So it put Apple in quite a unique situation, to say the least.
Add to this the fact that Apple has been asked to publish an ad in British newspapers as well as its website that Samsung did not copy the design of the iPad, and it becomes clear that the road to humiliation for Apple has not yet ended.
WHO LET THE PATENT DOGS OUT?
In all this mess, one begs the question – where does the consumer fit into all this? What if I just don’t enjoy Apple’s products but want a device with a similar form factor and functionality. With injunctions being passed every few weeks and on flagship products nonetheless, there is every reason to believe that the consumer is the victim in such petty patent suits.
There does however appear to be a voice of reason in all this. And it comes from none other than Judge Richard Posner, a a judge on the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, senior lecturer for the University of Chicago Law School, and author of dozens of books on law and economics. One will recall how he threw out the case between Apple v. Motorolla and refused to grant an injunction, criticising it as a suitable remedy in such cases. The fundamental patent claims in that suit surrounded heuristics, UI elements and wireless technology.
Judge Posner made some very relevant observations in the his June 2012 ruling by stating that while he understood why companies such as Apple and Google need to rely on patents to enhance their market share in a briskly mushrooming market, he was unconvinced that we ‘really needed patents in most industries today’. This was most certainly targeted towards the smartphone and tablet industry that has been witnessing a surge in patent litigation involving trivial functionalities. As Posner himself notes, it is grossly unfair that sales of a particular Motorola phone are completely banned merely because it contains a video streaming feature similar to one patented by Apple.
In a world where simple features such as ‘slide to unlock’ are considered patentable and are grounds for broad sweeping injunctions, one begins to wonder whether tablets will need to be circular in the future, in order to avoid a patent war.