Samsung / Apple verdict: The aftermath

The jury handed a near unanimous victory to Apple in the patent infringement case against Samsung that was decided today. The verdict has ramifications for Apple, Samsung, and all Android device makers.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor on
Legal justice

In the patent infringement trial between Samsung and Apple, the jury today handed a stunning victory to Apple. The jury found that Samsung had not only infringed on Apple's design and UI innovations, but had done so "wilfully". The near unanimous decision in Apple's favor has far-reaching ramifications for the Android smartphone world.

Apple had claimed in court that Samsung had copied its design with most of its Android product line, both smartphones and tablets. It added that Samsung had also infringed on particular UI elements that made the Samsung products better, thus impacting Apple's iPhone/iPad sales. The jury agreed with Apple and handed it a $1.05 billion award for damages.

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It's not likely but the finding that Samsung had wilfully copied Apple's products means the judge has the option to increase the damages up to triple the amount awarded by the jury. That would almost certainly be appealed by Samsung if that happened. Of course, the verdict is going to be appealed anyway.

I wasn't in the courtroom for the trial so I can't comment on the rightness nor wrongness of this decision. I have previously made my position clear that I don't believe "features" should qualify for patents, but that's not the issue here. The patent system, which I believe is broken, is what it is and we have to live with it. That makes Samsung a bad guy now that this verdict has been delivered in court.

CNET has a breakdown on the patents ruled to be wilfully infringed by Samsung. They basically span two areas: hardware design and UI features. The hardware infringement ruling makes it clear the jury found that most of Samsung's smartphone and tablet line was copied from Apple's.

I personally would never mistake a Samsung phone or tablet for an iPhone or iPad, but that's not the issue. The jury found that they are sufficently alike to cause harm to Apple, so that's the way it is. I can state that of all the Android devices I have used/seen that Samsung's are more alike those of Apple's than other companies. 

It may not be a coincidence that Android devices that are the most like Apple's are also the most successful in the market. Samsung sells far more phones and tablets than other OEMs making Android devices, and perhaps it validates Apple's design. Other vendors selling devices much different in design than Apple's aren't doing so well, so maybe there's a case to be made for what sells and what doesn't.

The hardware design ruling only affects Samsung but the UI feature patent infringement may be applicable to all of Android. As CNET points out, the three major UI patents ruled to be infringed are:

'381 patent

  • rubber band effect when scrolling to bottom of page
  • dragging documents
  • pinch/zoom
  • twist/rotate

'915 patent

  • Distinguishing between a single-touch scroll and a multi-touch action (pinch/zoom)

'163 patent

  • Double-tap the screen to zoom in or center a web page, photo, etc.

These UI features are present all through Android, so either Google must fight these separately or get rid of them in future versions. That would make the OS less appealing, frankly, as these elements are ones I use frequently. The fact that they have now been ruled by a US court to "belong" to iOS is a big blow to Android. It's likely this will have to be addressed, and soon.

Samsung is going to have to change its phone and tablet designs going forward, or risk further legal action. Apple now has a major ruling in its pocket so its likely going to get even more aggressive in the future. Samsung now has that "wilfull copier" label which won't do it any favors in other courtrooms.

Major design changes will be a risk to Samsung's future products. As mentioned earlier, few Android devices have been successful compared to the Galaxy line of products, so deviation will be risky. Samsung really has no choice but to make a significant change if it wants to stay out of court.

Even if Samsung changes its hardware design, those Android UI features that have been ruled infringing must go. That puts Samsung at the mercy of Google to make those changes in a timely fashion, and replace them with equally compelling functionality.

If I was an executive at Samsung I would be looking at Windows Phone for future products. Samsung is already on board with Windows 8 going forward, so maybe it's time to switch to Windows Phone. Apple has a deal with Microsoft for Windows Phone, so OEMs using that platform are without risk from Apple's legal team. Well, as long as they don't copy Apple's phones.

A switch to the Windows Phone platform would not be without risk to Samsung, but the company has to change its hardware anyway. It's worth a trip from Korea to Redmond to pursue.

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