Samsung and Apple do not only battle it out in the market, but also in court. It all started with Apple (US based) accusing Samsung (South Korean based) of copying the design of the iPhone, later followed by similar accusations of copying the iPad. Samsung’s devices do show similarities – you have to be blind as a bat not to see it – but the question is: Is this illegal?
Designs ‘as a whole’ can not be protected. For instance, if you design a web page, you cannot apply for a patent for the whole web page, because it consists of multiple design elements. So you have to describe each design element and apply for a patent per element. That’s what Apple did. They applied for a patent for ‘rounded corners’ of the iPhone and iPad. And got it. Huh? They applied for a patent of ‘tab to zoom’ and got it. Wow! And so one. No world changing stuff, no mind shifting, no revolution, just simple design elements. That’s called evolution. But not in the US: you can apply for a patent for the shape of your head if you so desire. It’s unbelievable. Hens the patent mess we’re in today.
Last week the San Jose jury concluded that Samsung did infringe on some of Apple’s patents. The amazing thing is that they came to this conclusion (after a mere 22 hours of deliberation) because Google had send an e-mail to the board of Samsung, asking them to make their products less alike the Apple stuff. So, the jury concluded, Samsung could have known that their products were going to be look-a-likes. As if Google suddenly is THE design authority in the world? They had never designed anything worth a mention. Ok, I forgot about the amazing Doodles, sorry folks!
Now Samsung has to pay Apple over 1 billion USD. If you say it quickly, it sounds like a penny, right? But is (was) this a fair trial. San Jose is practically the hometown of Apple. I checked it: it’s a 14 minutes drive. A lot of people that work for Apple probably live in or around San Jose. So to call this court “Apple’s backyard court” isn’t too far fetched.
I really wondered what would have happened if this court had been held in Seoul, the hometown of Samsung. Aren’t you?
And that’s exactly was has happened! Apple and Samsung did fight it out in a South Korean court, whilst the one in San Jose is (was) taking place. And hardly any press is covering this, besides a lousy article in The New York Times. And how do you think this court ruled? Apple infringed on two patents of Samsung and Samsung on one patent of Apple. Case closed. Penalties: 22.000 USD for Samsung and 35.000 USD for Apple. All Apple toys are banned from South Korea, accept for the iPhone 4S, and Samsung is not allowed to sell any of it’s products in their own backyard, accept for the Galaxy S III.
So, who’s right and who’s wrong? I believe the court of Seoul has got it right, the penalties reflect the value of the patents, whilst the decision not to allow any further infringements by banning all but one product is more than fair. The US court should take notice of this ruling, but I’ll be dreaming to believe this is going to happen.
Who’s to benefit? Not the consumer, but I bet the lawyers are having a ball.
P.s. Noticed that BloombergBusinessWeek has also reported on the Seoul ruling.