The fallout from Apple’s win over Samsung in a California patent court has been an extension of the rhetoric that took place within the court. Apple, smug after its billion-dollar settlement, claims the whole case was about values. Samsung still holds to the line that Apple’s design patents are frivolous and the real loser is the consumer. Neither side is wrong.
As much as Apple and Samsung want everybody to believe that one is on the side of good while the other is completely evil, the reality is that that is just not true. It is possible to not be right while not precisely being wrong.
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook called the victory a triumph of values.
“For us this lawsuit has always been about something much more important than patents or money. It’s about values. We value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on earth. And we do this to delight our customers, not for competitors to flagrantly copy,” Cook wrote in a memo leaked to 9to5 Mac.
Cook is not wrong, but he is not correct. Apple is right to defend itself against copying. But, it is not like Apple was defending the invention of fire. It was defending design patents based on the size and shape of the iPad and iPhone as well as utility patents used in iOS.
None of the patents that Apple fought tooth and nail over in the name of values are particularly innovative.
The utility patents may have some functions specific to iOS, but the Android manufacturers have already figured a way around most of those because it was not the function that Apple patented so much as how the function is performed. Companies like HTC, Samsung and Motorola have been working on ways to circumvent those patents through design and functional updates to their devices, and Apple will have little grounds in court to sue the Android manufacturers over these same functions again.
The patents themselves are just weapons against Samsung and other Android manufacturers.
The settlement money is also of no concern to Apple. This is a company that is one of the most valuable in the history of the world, sitting on a $100 billion in liquid assets. But taking a billion dollars from Samsung was a reward in itself.
Cook’s comments about values is public relations. Most journalists, analysts and tech enthusiasts have a better understanding of Apple’s motivations under the surface. Apple's two biggest motivations were to set a precedent for all its upcoming patent cases and to slow the Android ecosystem's growth. The more Apple can hobble Android, the more iPhones and iPads it can sell. With Apple’s extraordinarily high margins, there is a lot of money on the table.
The effect on Samsung is marginal in the short term. This case was mostly about Samsung’s long product tail, with devices that had been on the market a year or more running software that has been completely overhauled to avoid these specific Apple patents.
Samsung will likely appeal the judgment, mostly to avoid the precedent that the case sets. This is not the last time these two companies will meet in court over patents. Apple’s win makes it more likely that its similar patent cases against Samsung and other Android manufacturers will result in injunctions against Android devices. Samsung needs to negate that precedent.
Samsung: “Loss for the American Consumer”
After the announcement of the verdict, Samsung issued a statement:
“Today’s verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer. It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices. It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners, or technology that is being improved every day by Samsung and other companies.”
It is difficult to believe both companies. Samsung says that Apple’s win is bad for innovation. Apple said it is good for innovation. Again, neither company is right, but neither is wrong.
When Apple speaks of innovation, it is not talking about the broad scope of technology innovation. Apple is talking about its own innovation. Innovation that has been called into question many times over the years. Apple is seen as a company that makes technologies better and sexier and prices its devices higher than the competition to pad its margins.
Samsung is essentially saying that Apple’s designs and its legal claims are frivolous. It is implying that if Apple can improve on technologies and not be found guilty of copying, then so can we.
Samsung certainly has a high opinion of itself. By calling the verdict “a loss for the American consumer” it is saying that its products are so good that the U.S. consumer will suffer for the loss. It is the same tactic that Samsung has used in most of its court cases against Apple across the world. “This bully is bad for us, bad for you, bad for everybody.”
Samsung itself is a bit of a bully. It has the manufacturing might to flood the mobile market with so many devices at so many price points that it is squeezing not just Apple, but the other Android manufacturers. Motorola’s market presence is almost non-existent at this point and HTC is flailing. Samsung, not Apple, is the biggest culprit behind Nokia’s fall from grace. Samsung’s shotgun strategy works and cannot (or, cannot without great difficulty) be replicated by any other Android manufacturer.
Samsung’s own rhetoric is as hypocritical as Apple’s. While Samsung claims it did not copy Apple in the slightest way (and it has a case for that, despite the jury’s verdict), there is no question that some of Samsung’s smartphones do look very similar to the iPhone.
The Winner? Nobody
In the end, the outcome was predictable. Can anyone say that Samsung could win a case with a Californian jury in the shadow of Cupertino? Samsung never really stood a chance.
The battle of rhetoric does neither company justice. Apple comes off with a morality play that is almost laughable. Samsung sounds like a whining, arrogant twit that insists it did nothing wrong. With this decision, all Android manufacturers lose, not just Samsung. In the end, that is how the American consumer loses too.
That means Google loses, too, right? That's not necessarily the whole story. Apple could be doing Google a favor with its courtroom war.