By Greg Mills
In the wake of a devastating loss to Apple in Federal Court, Samsung has blustered with threats and a publicity campaign that simply whines lies. There have been stories in even the national press that “Apple seeks to limit customer choice” in the smart phone and tablet market. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing Apple seeks to limit is Samsung and other companies freeloading on Apple technology and innovation.
I was surprised to see, in a recent on-line poll, that among young adults, a majority think Apple was not entitled to have won in court and that Samsung ought to be able to sell infringing phones. They just don’t get it. It costs money to run research labs and hire smart people to come up with the iPhone magic we carry in our pockets. Even those Apple does this so well, we shouldn’t reduce their ability to protect their inventions from others who steal those ideas.
As the attorney for Apple so eloquently put it, what took Apple four years of hard work and substantial risk took Samsung 90 days to emulate. The issue is that the risk in putting the “magical devices” Apple is famous for costs a lot of money. Once Apple spends the money to come up with the wow factor, it simply isn’t fair for other companies to cash in on Apple’s market share with copy cat devices.
Patents give inventors a monopoly, established by the US Constitution, for the sole right to use their technology for a period of time. That the technology is broadly accepted and spawns a new market that doesn’t diminish the validity of the underlying patent. That is actually the purpose of intellectual property protection. Apple simply asserted its rights to only a small sample of its patents and won a major damage award.
The issues are both hardware and software related. Android is turning out to be a “bucket of hurt” for smartphone hardware companies, much to Google’s chagrin. Having won a battle with Oracle over unlicensed Java code used in the Android OS, patents that have recently been issued are cropping up that will force Apple-protected touchscreen gestures and logical interface out of upcoming Android operating systems.
Apple’s patents are holding up better than Google hoped. Even Google has whined that Apple wants to corner the market on smartphones … duh. Apple invented the modern smartphone and patented the most logical and best solution to a lot of system features that Android needed to compete.
News reports are coming out that Google, presumably with hat in hand, has approached Tim Cook with cross-licensing and licensing negotiations. Apple is likely to stand firm on some very basic iOS features but might bend on other issues. Putting Android back in the can isn’t going to happen. Apple getting paid for each Android phone that uses certain licensed technology might happen.
Apple had found itself fighting former friends in a bitter battle over infringement that friends wouldn’t do. Samsung finds its component business in a downward spiral for the long term with the world’s largest consumer of electrical components. Apple is sourcing parts elsewhere, whenever possible. Google is seeing its map function going away with the coming iOS since Apple bought their own technology for that money-making part of the smartphone industry.
Apple is now so big, even getting into making their own chips might be a viable option. While it costs billions of dollars to build a state-of-the-art chip facility, Apple has been hiring the right people to design and someday even mint their own silicon. Apple uses so much flash memory and so many system-on-a-chip microprocessors that producing proprietary chips might someday be the right thing to do. In addition to controlling the leakage of functions the copy cats want to steal, there is a lot of money to be saved in part costs that goes into the coffers of component manufactures that sell to Apple.
Patents are not perfect by any means and even Federal judges who understand intellectual property the most agree that the system is broken. The latency period from the filing of patents until issuance is so long little timely protection is available to inventors and their companies, like Apple. Keeping their technology a secret turns out to be a far cheaper and more effective way to have some time in the sun, selling the new technology they come up with. However, patents are the only show in town, and Apple will continue to support an army of attorneys and do battle in courts and with trade authorities around the world to beat the Samsungs.
Samsung needs to find another way to overcome the “crisis of design” other than stealing proven innovation that also happens to be patented.
That is Greg’s Bite.