The big Apple-Samsung patent trial begins in the Unites States on Monday. What are the arguments, what's at stake, who's likely to win, and where will this leave the mobile industry as a whole?
It feels like mobile giants Apple and Samsung have been suing each other since the dawn of time, but the really big patent trial between the companies -- debating whether Samsung copied the design patents of the iPhone and iPad -- begins in California on Monday.
We've summarized each side's arguments below, and have attempted to explain what Apple and Samsung stand to win or lose in this titanic legal battle, how likely each outcome is, and the likely effect on the tablet and smartphone markets. Not to mention the technology industry, and its heavy reliance on vigorous patent enforcement, as a whole.
What's This Patent Trial All About?
Design patents on mobile technology products, basically. Apple reckons Samsung copied its designs for the iPhone and iPad, then got rich off the resulting products. Or richer. It wasn't a pauper to start with.
Sounds like a pretty straightforward case. If they've got the patents, it's open and shut.
Ha! Good one. New to patent law, are you?
Variants on this basic argument, and extensions and offshoots of it, have been whirling around the world's courts for years, with different judges reaching often-contradictory verdicts in different territories. In the UK, for instance, Apple was ordered to take out expensive adverts admitting that Samsung didn't copy the iPad, although this was later overturned, whereas German courts have banned the EU sale of Samsung Galaxy Tabs, on the basis that they infringe Apple design patents. Riddle me that one, if you can.
Patents tend to be very complicated, often vague and horribly subjective. One thing they're not is "open and shut."
Okay, so it's going to be thrillingly complex. Baffle me with some legal arguments. Let's start with Apple's position.
Apple reckons Samsung took rather heavy-handed (or light-fingered) "inspiration" from the design of the iPhone and iPad, and then made billions of dollars selling derivative products (and cost Apple hundreds of millions in lost sales).
Apple's brief for the trial has some great snippets about innovation. The Wall Street Journal has more of these, but here are some highlights:
"Samsung cannot change the central fact that its products are strikingly similar to Apple's patented designs. Nor can it change the novelty and extraordinary success of Apple's designs. Samsung will instead attempt to confuse the issues with a hodgepodge of defenses based on incorrect legal standards. Samsung's defenses will fail."
"Samsung's documents show that the similarity of Samsung's products is no accident or, as Samsung would have it, a 'natural evolution'. Rather, it results from Samsung's deliberate plan to free-ride on the iPhone's and iPad's extraordinary success by copying their iconic designs and intuitive user interface."
Yes. Samsung contends that it got there first with a lot of the basic technologies used in today's smartphones, that it has relevant patents of its own, and that Apple has a history of commercialising other companies' innovations rather than coming up with its own. Here are some excerpts from the Samsung brief:
"Apple, which sold its first iPhone nearly twenty years after Samsung started developing mobile phone technology, could not have sold a single iPhone without the benefit of Samsung's patented technology."
"Apple seeks to exclude Samsung from the market, based on its complaints that Samsung has used the very same public domain design concepts that Apple borrowed from other competitors, including Sony, to develop the iPhone. Apple's own internal documents show this."
"Apple has admitted in internal documents that its strength is not in developing new technologies first, but in successfully commercializing them Also contrary to Apple's accusations, Samsung does not need or want to copy; rather, it strives to best the competition by developing multiple, unique products. Samsung internal documents from 2006, well before the iPhone was announced, show rectangular phones with rounded corners, large displays, flat front faces, and graphic interfaces with icons with grid layouts."
What Evidence Does Apple Have?
Apple has put forward a document (which has been published by AppleInsider) that illustrates Samsung smartphones before and after the iPhone launch in 2007. Of course the company has selected the most visually helpful models, but there's an undeniable 'non-iPhoney'/'iPhoney' contrast between the before and after pictures.
More specifically, Apple has listed the patents it reckons Samsung has infringed, and a per-unit royalty fee it believes would be appropriate. Quoting from the excellent site FOSS Patents:
"These are the per-unit royalties that Apple calculated for its different intellectual property rights-in-suit:
$2.02 for the "overscroll bounce" (or "rubber-banding") 318 patent
$3.10 for the "scrolling API" 915 patent
$2.02 for the "tap to zoom and navigate" 163 patent
$24 for use of any of Apple's design patents or trade dress rights
Apple bases these demands on studies according to which the features and techniques covered by those patents drive demand. For example, a "conjoint survey" conducted by one of Apple's experts "shows that Samsung's customers are willing to pay between $90 and $100 above the base price of a $199 smartphone and a $499 tablet, respectively, to obtain the patented features covered by Apple's 'utility patents'."
$2 doesn't sound unreasonable. What would the total cost be if Samsung lost (and the judge went with Apple's numbers)?
A cool $2.525 billion. Sorry but it's impossible to write $2.525 billion without putting 'cool' in front of it.
Next: Samsung patent victories, effects on the market if Apple wins.