A judge in the United Kingdom dealt an unusual punishment to Apple for losing a court case against Samsung last week. Apple sued Samsung in the U.K., claiming that the South Korean manufacturer's Galaxy Tab tablets copied the iPad. This, the judge said, was not true. Yesterday, the judge ruled that Apple must issue notifications on its U.K. website as well as in newspapers and magazines saying that Samsung did not copy the iPad. While the punishment may seem extreme, it may be just what the mobile device industry needs.
Apple has been fighting patent and design lawsuits against Samsung in courts across the world. The U.K. case hinged on design similarities between the iPad and the Galaxy Tab series, specifically the Galaxy Tab 10.1's back and rounded corners.
Last week, Judge Colin Birss said that Samsung did not infringe on Apple’s design because the Galaxy Tabs “are not as cool.” They “do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design,” Birss said, according to Bloomberg.
The judge's ruling yesterday is a bit of a Pyrrhic victory for Samsung. In terms of tangible benefits, the South Korean company definitely wins. Its products will remain on the market in the U.K. and Apple must do penance for the “prejudice” its lawsuit thrust upon Samsung’s Galaxy Tabs. On the other hand, Birss basically called Samsung’s tablets dweebs compared to the uber-hip iPad.
If Samsung truly was unduly influenced by Apple, it has has long since moved on. The Asian device maker has released several designs for the Tab 2 series that depart from the original Galaxy Tab designs and look less like the iPad. Yet Apple will have to issue its public notices anyway (assuming the ruling holds up on appeal).
Meanwhile the patent lawsuits under way in every corner of the mobile market are hurting consumers looking for a variety of mobile devices. Or, as Samsung put it in a press release, “innovation in the industry could be harmed and consumer choice unduly limited” if companies like Apple were to prevail in their efforts to bully the competition out of the market.
In this context, the judge's decision seems like the perfect punishment for a company that has lodged a patent lawsuit and lost. Essentially, it is a form of public shaming. Apple now has to stand in the town square with a sandwich board over it proclaiming, “We were wrong, Samsung did not copy us.” If this were 18th-century England, the townfolk would gather around and throw rotten fruit at the offender.
The patent wars continue to rage, but Birss' ruling suggests a way out. What if this were to become the standard for how patent suits were settled? Would Apple or Microsoft or any variety of Android manufacturer be less inclined to file patent lawsuits if it knew that if it lost, it would have to provide free advertising to its arch competitors on its own websites and in prominent news outlets? Now, that's a salutary prospect.