What is up with all these patents? | By Zafir Kanji

Most of you have no doubt heard about the multitude of copyright infringement trials taking place in the world of tech and seeing as how that’s all everyone is talking about, I thought I’d offer up my opinions on the matter.

I hate them.

Okay now that that’s done with, let’s move on to the biggest patent case in a long time: Apple v. Samsung. The trial for this iconic case began about a month ago and ended last week. Apple was suing Samsung for infringing on many of its user interface designs as well as some hardware design patents. Some of these patents were fair and others were ridiculous and should never have been granted to Apple in the first place. Anyways the specific details of the trial can be found very easily via Google so I’m not going to get into it here, but I would like to talk about how this may affect the tech world.

It seems pretty clear that the patent system in the United States needs to be reformed. While some of Apple’s patents have merit, from the design of the iPhone icons to the “swipe to unlock” feature or the bounce back scroll effect, some of the patents don’t. These include the “rectangular device with rounded corners and a touchscreen” patent. I’m not sure how Apple was able to patent the shape of the phone but I think there needs to be some standards and regulations to what patents can trademark. Needless to say, that last patent could have an “interesting” impact on non-Apple manufacturers. Now while Apple is suing pretty much everyone and everyone is counter-suing Apple, a lot of people are under the impression that this landmark case will be the standard-bearer in those other trials. If Apple continues winning, be prepared to see some changes to the design on upcoming devices. I also want to point out one thing: You don’t see Microsoft being sued by Apple or vice versa because they have a cross-licensing agreement, which pretty much means they can use each other’s patents without worry. I find that amusing considering just how different Windows Phone 7/8 is as well as the fact that the new Windows Phones made by Nokia are not very similar to the iPhone in any way.

If you haven’t heard then you should know that the jury found Samsung guilty of copyright infringement and has ordered them to pay Apple approximately $1 billion in damages. Obviously Samsung is going to appeal and many so-called experts don’t believe that amount will stand. Now there are many different thoughts on this verdict, including the “wowzers that’s a lot of money,” “down with Samsung, those thieves,” and “Apple is a bunch of bullies, I’m never buying another Apple product again.” While all of those opinions are extremely valid, I’m going to be looking at some different ones.

There seems to be two main opinions, the first being that Apple winning is great for innovation. The fact that Apple is able to protect its intellectual property from other manufacturers means that they are going to have to come with new fresh ideas and get the innovation train moving along, perhaps a circular phone with a full keypad? You see, Apple winning is going to force the other manufacturers to step up their game and really start trying to separate themselves from the iPhone, which sounds great in theory but it seems like Apple isn’t trying to spark innovation, as much as it’s trying to stifle and ultimately push out all competition.

While we are on this topic, I’d like to mention that Apple is not completely innocent either and there are quite a few examples of new Apple features that have been on Android since its inception, including the scroll down notification center. Moreover, iOS 6 will include tab, bookmark and history syncing – something Google Chrome for Android has always had. While these aren’t Samsung specific it just goes to show that borrowing ideas from other areas of the industry is just the nature of the beast.

The next opinion I’ve heard is that this is actually going to work out well for Samsung. You see, according to this trial many Samsung products are the “same” as the iPhone. But the difference is that Samsung products are noticeably cheaper. So for those not as tech-savvy or for those who don’t care as much, they can get the look and performance of the iPhone at a much cheaper price. It was a marketing scheme from Samsung that ‘only’ cost them $1 billion but has captured the attention of all those looking for a capable phone without paying an arm and a leg for it. It seems very likely that if you were to walk into a cell phone store or Future Shop, for example, and found that the price of an iPhone was too expensive, the customer service rep would just direct you to the Samsung Galaxy S2 or a bunch of other Samsungs that look similar to the iPhone, have the same camera specifications, processor, memory, features for a fraction of the cost.

In terms of major fallout from this case, we will just have to wait for the appeals process and in September there is the injunction hearing where Apple will try to ban 8 Samsung products from being sold.

Also if the relationship between these two companies wasn’t enough to make you pull your hair out already, you should know that the iPhone’s flash memory, DRAM memory and processor (the parts of the phone that, you know, make it work) are all built by Samsung.

Anyways, I want to thank you all for reading this week’s article on the world of technology and I hope to see you next Wednesday for my next article.

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  • Roberto S.

    Awesome article!

    Not that I know much about anything, but it seems to be that the real game changer lies in whether or not apple wins the injunction to ban 8 Samsung products from being sold. I mean you loose 1 billion dollars…okay, I guess that’s a lot of money (but as you said, many people think that amount will go down). But that money is all recoverable, and more, assuming Samsung can profit out of this so called veiled marketing gain (as you said, now everyone knows about samsung and now people will buy their product).

    But the moment you decide to slap a ban on the 8 samsung products: then I think that’s when **** just got real- because that’s a lot of sales lost, and back to the drawing board, and plus- it’s not just going to hurt samsung, its going to hurt google because google relies on those samsung phones as a base for their android systems.

    I guess what I am trying to say (and not in contradiction to anything you said in the article, just continuing on the discussion) is that real decision is whether or not the samsung phones are banned. That’s the real standard setter. That’s the decision that will underscore whether or not somebody can really own a rectangle phone with curved corners and bar anybody from reproducing that. So I think that’s the decision I am avidly awaiting! lol

    • Zafir Kanji

      Hey Roberto,

      Thanks for your response! I absolutely agree with you that the big decision is coming in September. I don’t think the $1 billion is going to sink Samsung and a part of me believes it will be helpful, in fact, as a marketing strategy. However if those 8 products get banned then Samsung will have to reconsider its design strategy, as you said. Although, I don’t know how much it will effect Android as a whole considering the vast variety of other phones by other manufacterers as well as other phones from Samsung itself. It may even boost sales of Samsung’s higher end phones such as the new Galaxy SIII. I don’t know what will happen, either way I’m expecting an appeal but you’re definitely right, September 20, I believe, is the big judgement day.

  • Finbarr

    What recommendations would you have for the patent industry?

    • Zafir Kanji

      Hi Finbarr,

      Thanks for your question. I think I would suggest to the patent industry to take a much more analytical and realistical approach to their granting decisions. I think patents should be awarded based on proprietary and company specific software or hardware and not extremely general bases. I mean what’s stopping Intel from patenting a ‘microchip designed to perform calculations with the intention of running a device’ and then suing AMD, Samsung, Apple and any other company who designs a processor. I think it needs to have much higher standards and general design patents, for example, that have been around for years do nothing but hurt the industry.