Mobile // Mobile Business
Commentary
3/31/2014
11:00 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Apple, Samsung Patent Slugfest Returns To Courthouse

Apple wants Samsung to pony up $40 per smartphone for patents. Will the strategy backfire?

Mobile World Congress: 5 Hot Gadgets
Mobile World Congress: 5 Hot Gadgets
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Apple wants blood from Samsung. The iPhone maker believes devices such as the Galaxy S II and S III are copycat products whose success is attributable to Apple's intellectual property. Apple is seeking $2 billion in damages from the Korean firm and hopes this second trial fully exposes what it views as Samsung's theft. Meanwhile, Samsung is innovating and moving on with new and different product categories while Apple offers only iterative updates to its devices.

Like the first major trial between Apple and Samsung, the second trial takes place in San Jose, Calif. US District Judge Lucy Koh is once again presiding over the trial, which will be heard and decided by ten jurors who've not yet been selected. Apple and Samsung have been filing motions with the court furiously in the lead-up to the trial, and Koh has been stern with both firms about the rules of the courtroom and what they may and may not present to the jury. Apple sued Samsung over five patents, and Samsung countersued over two. Here's a quick rundown on the patents.

The Apple patents in question cover system and method for performing action on a structure in computer-generated data; universal interface for retrieval of information in a computer system; synchronous data synchronization among devices; unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image; and method, system, and graphical user interface for providing word recommendations. These are all utility patents, not design-related patents. The first major trial between Apple and Samsung in 2012 pertained to the design patents. Apple says ten Samsung devices violate these patents, including the Galaxy Admire; Galaxy Nexus; Galaxy Note and Note 2; Galaxy S II, S II Epic 4G Touch, and S II Skyrocket; Galaxy S3; Stratosphere; and the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1.

[Does Apple have some new innovation in the works? Read 5 Apple Patents Hint At Surprises.]

The Samsung patents in question cover camera and folder organization functionality, and video transmission functionality. It's important to note that Samsung's patents were acquired -- not developed -- by Samsung. In fact, Samsung didn't acquire the first of these patents until after Apple filed its first lawsuit against Samsung, in 2011. Samsung says eight Apple devices violate these patents, including the iPhone 4, 4S, and 5; the iPad 2, 3 and 4; the iPad mini; and the fourth- and fifth-generation iPod Touch.

This trial is entirely separate from the one in which a jury awarded Apple $1 billion in damages (of which about $930 million stuck). Combined, Apple might eventually see a payday of about $3 billion. That's a lot of money, but Apple is taking a hit in the reputation department. Some are beginning to see it is a litigious dollar-chaser rather than an innovator of fine mobile products. There's no question that Apple still makes a lot of money from the iPhone and iPad, especially when you consider the impact of iTunes and the App Store, but it's easy to wonder what Apple could create if it spent less time litigating and more time on product development.

Since Apple filed the first lawsuit in April 2011, the basic designs of the iPhone and iPad haven't changed much. Sure, Apple increased the iPhone's display from 3.5 inches to 4 inches, improved the camera and processor, and added a fingerprint sensor, but the company hasn't delivered a serious "Wow!" since the debut of the iPad back in 2010. During this same time period, Samsung introduced the Galaxy S III, S4, and S5, each with its own improvements. It launched the Note, Note 2, and Note 3 phablets, creating and capitalizing on a brand-new device category. The company also introduced four different wearables, and its tablet selection ranges from dirt cheap to top of the line. Samsung has diversified its product mix and is selling devices in big numbers. After years of rumors, larger iPhones and the iWatch still haven't panned out, leaving many to wonder if they'll ever show up.

Apple's demand that Samsung pay it $40 per offending device is ludicrous on its face. The company might do better to license its broad patent portfolio rather than litigate it. Unless Apple chooses that path, it will continue to battle Samsung for years to come -- both in the courtroom and on retail shelves around the world.

What do Uber, Bank of America, and Walgreens have to do with your mobile app strategy? Find out in the new Maximizing Mobility issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest.

Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
Li Tan
50%
50%
Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
4/2/2014 | 9:23:52 AM
Re: Just get over yourself Apple and compete!
This is really something hard to define - IPR is very important but how we protect it properly is another thing. Can you simple define the value of specific UI/UX design? Apple wants blood from Samsung but does it all make sense? Apple should compete in the market in a more realistic manner.
dentdavi
50%
50%
dentdavi,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2014 | 11:43:42 PM
Re: "Obvious" ain't so obvious if you're living in the future...
It is true that patents allow companies to invest in R&D knowing that they can monopolize on 'inventions' for a period of time. However there is a fine balance. No idea or invention is created in a vacuum. All inventions are manipulations of existing ideas or technologies that are iterated to something new. The iPhone contains all type of technogies that have been developed over the years. All of it's parts had been created or imagined in other ways before. Certainly they added a few new ideas an then put things together in a novel way, but Apple didn't invent CPU's, metal cases, operating systems, rectangular objects, icons, mobile phones, etc. If we give too much power through patents to one company we stifle the ability to advance technology. Monopolies are not good either. They stifle innovation and keep others from improving and evolving products. 

The world has changed. We need new laws to manage our complex, rapidly moving society. Current patent laws are antiquated and inadequate at protecting true ideas while letting product evolution continue. There is no place for 20 years of holding a patent in a world that changes every day, and it is questionable whether software should even be patented (rather than copyrighted). It is like patenting music. 

Since all creations are combinations of existing ideas that develop from the evolution of human thought and design, we need to be careful that we don't give up the freedom to keep thinking, building and creating to companies that will sue to keep everyone else from moving forward. 
Brian.Dean
50%
50%
Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
4/1/2014 | 8:06:13 AM
Re: What a crock of
What innovation would a coal driven steam engine bring to the world if it is so inefficient (high cost to run) that it can only be operated at the side of a coal mine? 

I think innovation should be measured relative to cost and mass user adoption that it brings to the global economy.
Brian.Dean
50%
50%
Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
4/1/2014 | 7:49:54 AM
Re: Just get over yourself Apple and compete!
Great points: it's complicated. I don't see how Apple could put a dollar figure on a segment of a device that might have been sold and bought by the consumer based on a different segment. For example, if a device costs $400 and a consumer buys it because it has a quad-core processor then how can Apple value a UI at $40? I am not against companies suing other companies, but if UI is the issue then shouldn't this be an Apple v Google case.
AnthonyLiving11
100%
0%
AnthonyLiving11,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2014 | 4:03:22 AM
Re: apple/samsung screw job
I totally agree with you. I think that Apple have just lost their shine after Jobs' death.
Joe Stanganelli
50%
50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
3/31/2014 | 11:28:23 PM
Re: Just sEE
Doctors hate him!
Uplift_Humanity
0%
100%
Uplift_Humanity,
User Rank: Strategist
3/31/2014 | 7:26:20 PM
"Obvious" ain't so obvious if you're living in the future...
Patents are complex, and most lay people on the internet (including this "author" and many commenters here) have only a rudimentary understanding of what is patentable innovation or protectable.  They cite "rounded corners" and "swipe to unlock" as things obvious (though, this is just their perception).

Do these people think of color television as an "obvious" change from black-and-white TV? How about a self-closing refrigerator door?  Is a lightbulb made up of LEDs patentable or just an "obvious" change from the incandescent light bulp?  I'm sure many people would these of these as obvious - but there were/are valid patents on each of these technologies.  The reason is, at the time/year those patents were issued, such capabilities were not obvious or even possible, especially to the brightest engineers of the time.


Similarly, there are software patents - many involving specialized algorithms.  Algorithms are the "magic" that gives a specific capability through software.  For example, routing software in every GPS (critical to even a basic GPS), software-only radios (that powers satellite radios and modern mobile radios), and lossless compression technologies -- all incorporate patentable algorithms.  Without patent and copyright protections, few companies could justify the immense resources (time, money, free food) needed to fund their internal engineering teams and skunk-works projects.

Each patent has a long history -- a backstory -- that never gets told.  So people on the outside think of it as something very simple.  And 30 years later -- those "simple" things start to look "obvious".  So that's where we are with many patents.  Apple has a long history of patents and copyrights -- for more than 30 years.  That's more than nearly every one of their competitors in their industries.

 

The "rounded corners" issue needs explanation, for those who obviously lack an understanding of the facts.  This involved a novel algorithm for drawing rounded corners on screens.  This idea came about in the late 1970s.  Apple was developing the Macintosh computer (introduced in Jan 1984).  At the time, there were no equivalent computer that was entirely graphical.  Only specialized "graphics workstations" costing from $50 000 to $300 000 were the only devices capable of drawing "corners" on their displays.  However none did - because it was a very CPU-intensive activity.  So no company or engineer thought of writing specialized code to put rounded corners (at each corner) of the video screen.  Apple (specifically Steve Jobs) wanted his Macintosh to look more "human", so he asked for rounded corners on the original Mac screen.  Andy Hertzfeld was one of the lead engineers involved on this, and he said it was difficult to do so quickly.  Remember, the CPU was responsible for drawing EVERY pixel on the screen -- which for those days was alone an unbelievable task.  And adding a routine to keep drawing rounded corners on the screen would take up more CPU cycles than he felt was wise.  Steve Jobs relented, and Andy came up with a novel algorithm to do it with very few CPU cycles.  At the time, software was not patentable, so Apple could not protect this "invention".  The original Macintosh was introduced with rounded corners (on the physical exterior, AND on the screen).  These were symetrical, and constituted a certain "aesthetic" that Apple was looking for.  It became a major part of the Macintosh's (and subsequently Apple's) brand.

Even if you don't believe this constituted an invention, it became and mostly continues to be a part of Apple's branding.  Meaning, Steve Jobs made it a point to have every new product introduced since then to have rounded corners on the screen.  Many shapes Apple used -- including icons -- also had rounded corners.  And all of the rounded corners had a very specific shape/radius.  Every iPhone and iPad (nearly every Apple product - even their MacBook laptops and iMacs) ALL have very similar rounded corners.

So Samsung's copying of this copyrighted "rounded corners" feature was the same as if they took Apple's corporate logo.  Legally, there is no difference.

Since software patents were not possible, Apple obtained a legal copyright on this feature -- their branding feature.  Brands are powerful symbols for companies, similar to their corporate logo.  And for those who know, rounded corners were for many years exclusive to Apple products.  It is a part of Apple's history -- AND it was copyrighted.

So when Samsung started wholesale copying of this and other copyrighted features, Apple made the gutsy decision to sue Samsung.  History shows that Samsung LOST the lawsuit and penalties were set by the court.  Samsung counter-sued and appealed the decision, which they lost (both strategies).

And now, after the original verdict was again upheld approx. a month ago this year, Apple wants Samsung to begin paying for the damages that it fought hard to prove (and multiple court cases upheld).

So this is not a new case - it is Apple's attempt to get justice for and to remedy the wrong (harmful theft of their branded) done to them by Samsung.  The amount they want is not under dispute - the court itself set the penalty amount it.
KirkM431
0%
100%
KirkM431,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/31/2014 | 5:52:29 PM
Re: Biased article
Yes - happy and loyal customers are what every company, including Samsung, want.. However, Samsung doesn't have loyal customers in numbers- so they revert to copying, and playing the numbers game. Samsung's dubious market strategy is based on creating over 100 products spread across a 30% market share- which means their ROI strategy is not sustainable aganst the bottom feeders. Apple plays the smart strategy with leveraging a few products and firmly in control of the mid to upper market.
literacyisgood
0%
100%
literacyisgood,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/31/2014 | 4:55:25 PM
Re: apple/samsung screw job
Cheap junk? Apple hardware is good quality.

Its the software which makes apple's mobile devices really suck.

If Apple made an android phone, it would be very high quality.  Might even be as good as HTC's.  Too bad apple is commited to the inferior iOS.
Thomas Claburn
100%
0%
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
3/31/2014 | 4:54:16 PM
Re: Just get over yourself Apple and compete!
It's not an easy issue, particuarly given the complexity of the patents involved. On the one hand, companies shouldn't be able to freely copy Apple. On the other hand, Apple's closed nature begs to be copied because the company insists on owning everything -- can you imagine how much an iPhone would be if Apple were the only company allowed to use the touchscreen model it pioneered? Frankly, it's hard to side with either company. Our patent system is a mess. But the alternative, rampant copying, doesn't work well -- see the app market. Many of these rules which made sense in the industrial age no longer work in the information age, when designs can be knocked off in days...but lawmakers seem unwilling to try bold fixes. So we're stuck with a system that's bad for everyone.
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
InformationWeek Elite 100
InformationWeek Elite 100
Our data shows these innovators using digital technology in two key areas: providing better products and cutting costs. Almost half of them expect to introduce a new IT-led product this year, and 46% are using technology to make business processes more efficient.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - July 22, 2014
Sophisticated attacks demand real-time risk management and continuous monitoring. Here's how federal agencies are meeting that challenge.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A UBM Tech Radio episode on the changing economics of Flash storage used in data tiering -- sponsored by Dell.
Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.