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Battling it out in the courtroom, not the market

Deepa Kurup
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Apple and Samsung slug it out over nine utility patents and four design patents

The real reason?Many say the larger picture involves the fact that Google’s mobile operating system, Android, an open source system, has challenged Apple’s iOS environment. Being free, original equipment manufacturers have taken enthusiastically to Google’s offering.— photo: AP
The real reason?Many say the larger picture involves the fact that Google’s mobile operating system, Android, an open source system, has challenged Apple’s iOS environment. Being free, original equipment manufacturers have taken enthusiastically to Google’s offering.— photo: AP

If you’re a technophile with a thing for courtroom drama, then last week’s developments on the Apple-Samsung patent battle would have been just up your alley.

There was drama, witty remarks and caustic jibes as technology, design and legal experts from both companies deposed before a U.S. court in a high-stakes case where tech major Apple Inc. sued leading electronics firm Samsung Electronics Co. for “slavishly copying” the design of its flagship products, iPhone and iPad.

Legal skirmishes

These legal skirmishes in the patent space have dominated technology news in recent months. With Google trying to get Apple banned in the U.S., Samsung suing Apple, and Apple, in turn, contesting patent claims with HTC, Samsung and Google, manufacturers appear to have decided that the best way to beat the competition is in the courtroom, rather than in the market or the technology lab.

Though technology companies have several ongoing lawsuits with each other regarding a slew of technology patents, a trend that is perceived as stifling innovation and dampening the pace of technological growth, the current bout between the two equipment manufacturers is over nine utility patents, and more interestingly, four design patents (patents are divided into ‘utility’ and ‘design’ in the American patent system).

Damages sought

Clearly a market leader in design, Apple has alleged that every Samsung phone, since it launched the iPhone, has been a rip-off of its technological design, and ditto in the Tablet space. It has sought $ 2.5 million in damages as part of the anti-trust section of its legal arguments against the South Korean major.

The legal debates have narrowed down these design differences to millimeter-level differences in side margins of the gadgets, colours of different displays and whether the rounded-end or square-end of icons displayed are copied or not. In fact, over the past two weeks, tech forums have devoted detailed discussion threads to thrashing out these so-called design violations, with many agreeing that post 2010 Samsung’s phones did increasingly begin to look like the iPhone.

Samsung, in turn, accused Apple of infringing its basic patents (it holds quite a few significant patents in the wireless technology space) and argued that the iPhone and iPad were made using existing technologies.

On Friday, with Apple presenting its case, both sides have made their depositions.

Top of the heap

Over the first decade of the 21st century, Apple led the pack in terms of innovation with the flashiest, sleekest and slickest and most-talked-about products in the gadget space. It led the Tablet revolution with its sophisticated design and breakthrough innovations, particularly when it came to the ‘touch and feel’ quotient of the gadget. Whether it is music players, phones or tablets, Apple brought a whirlwind change in design and computer form-factors. While Apple has its own operating system (OS) which it provides along with its hardware, other manufacturers have also grappled with the fact that they dealt with different types of operating systems, each coming with its own set of compatibility issues when it came to optimising performance. This too has given Apple an edge.

Android vs. iOS

Though the current battles waged focus on the issue of who copied whose design, many say the larger picture involves the fact that Google’s mobile operating system, Android, an open source system, has challenged Apple’s iOS environment. Being free, unlike Apple’s iOS, original equipment manufacturers have taken enthusiastically to Google’s offering given the significant price advantage it offers.

Market share

In fact, some industry watchers speculate that Apple’s battle with Samsung is actually about Android’s growing share in the market. Figures by research and analyst firm IDC for the quarter ending June 2012 find that globally Android devices made up a whopping 68.1 per cent of all smartphones, compared to iPhones which account for 16.9 per cent of all smartphones shipped.

Gartner’s recent report too pegs the market share of Android at 64 per cent in the same period.

The iPhone maker has, in the past too, waged patent suit wars against HTC and Motorola.

Samsung has also emerged as the market leader in the mobile phone segment overtaking Nokia as the largest seller of mobile phones.

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