What Now, Samsung? What Now, Apple?

Now that Samsung has gotten its butt kicked in court, what's next for the two mobile giants? What about Microsoft and Windows Phone? What about us?

Microsoft isn't likely to get much out of this

I'm sure Microsoft would love to believe one of the biggest outcomes of this trial is phone makers getting patent jitters about Android and thus turning to Windows Phone. In the wake of the trial, Bill Cox, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications for Microsoft's Windows Phone division, tweeted "Windows Phone is looking gooooood right now." At one point during the trial Apple's own attorney Harold McElhinny showed the jury a Nokia-model Windows Phone to uphold the idea that "not every smartphone needs to look like an iPhone."

But it's naive to assume a Samsung defeat will drive anyone -- consumers or hardware makers -- away from Android into Microsoft's arms. The irony is that Microsoft would win either way; it's just a question of to what degree.

Microsoft profits from Android, if only indirectly, in the form of patent licensing from various handset makers. They'd rather augment that as much as they can with the far more lucrative per-phone licensing available with Windows Phone, but nothing in the Apple/Samsung dust-up has convinced Android phone makers they'd be better off with Microsoft. Safer, maybe, in terms of lawsuits, but the short-term hassle of legal tangles is nothing compared to the long-term benefits of being part of one of the biggest slices of the smartphone pie.

Market share is the one thing Microsoft doesn't have to offer potential Android refugees. Windows Phone sales remain a minuscule sliver of the overall smartphone world. They're growing, but very slowly -- at least in part because anyone who knows about the system is waiting for Windows Phone 8 to come out so they don't cheat themselves out of an upgrade. And there's nothing about this trial, or its aftermath, that hints at a mass exodus to Windows Phone being in the works on anyone's side.

The patent-troll industry will be thrilled

Few people would think of Google, Apple, Samsung or Microsoft as patent trolls -- entities whose entire assets are patent portfolios, and whose business models consist of shaking down the unsuspecting for fees that make the cost of going to trial prohibitive. For one, those companies actually create and sell products, something few patent trolls can lay claim to.

But with each victory that validates and upholds the current and grossly one-sided system for enforcing patents, the bolder the trolls will get. They're already pretty bold, and they've already gone so far as to shake down some of the above companies for impressive profits. You'd think getting milked like that would cause the big boys to rethink patent strategies when they can be weaponized and used against them, but it hasn't: it's just convinced them all the more that intellectual properties need to be defended vigorously.

They're right about that, but that's come at the cost of giving that much more credence to the unscrupulous. It isn't that the idea of patenting an invention is invalid; it's that the way it's handled has lent itself to an incredible range of predatory abuses. And the odds of that changing for the better -- even if Samsung goes all the way to the Supreme Court -- are now lower than ever.

Whoever wins, we lose

This isn't just an Alien Vs. Predator tag line. It might well be the underlying truth of the whole conflict.

If Samsung prevails, they won't just keep their roster of contended products on the market (most of which will by then -- oh, irony -- have been replaced by newer models anyway). They'll have that much more liberty to take inspiration -- if that's the right word -- from not just Apple but other entities. But that in turn opens the door for other manufacturers to also thoughtlessly copy aspects of Apple's hardware -- a net loss for innovation across the board.

If Apple prevails, it means an iconic brand defended against dilution, and it also means the competition is forced to, well, compete that much more creatively. But it also means that many more excuses for companies to enforce patents of questionable provenance, both for design and technology -- another net loss for customers, who lose out on otherwise perfectly good products that get yanked from the market for spurious reasons.

Is it too much to ask for them to just kiss and make up? Sadly, I guess it is.

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