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Article: Apple v. Samsung 2: The Legend of Curly’s Patents

by on May 5, 2014

I find all the coverage of the latest Apple/Samsung patent trial fascinating, as it’s become a captivating excuse for every tech writer to play legal expert. Still, I think there’s more to it—I think we’re trying to find a way to determine who’s really winning and who’s really losing in this mobile competition, but we’re probably still using the wrong metrics.

One measure of a company’s success in sales against competitors is the actual amount of products sold. However, these are often self-reported and you have companies who don’t play by the same rules—Amazon won’t report anything, Apple won’t break down sales figures by model, and Samsung just makes things up. Sales figures, like the points on Whose Line is it Anyway? don’t matter.

Another measure is market share, but there is a big flaw with this logic—who cares who many iPhones-versus-Galaxy S models are out there? If Apple sold iPhones at $50 each unsubsidized, they probably would have ridiculous market share, but would also be losing a lot of money on each device. Even still, people may be willing to buy a quality product, as is the case of the Mac’s market share climbing, despite a hurting PC industry. The important metric there is really if the company is making money on the number of products it sells. According to Apple’s recent quarterly earnings, they did just fine in that regard. Besides, if Apple and Samsung are making plenty of money, isn’t there room for both in the market? Live and let live, right?

That’s where these patent trials come in—due to our broken patent system, companies have to be on the defense, or they might have things they rightly invented stolen right out from under them, and then the topic of a lawsuit against them. Sometimes these are by companies who don’t have any intention on using the technology. FaceTime worked a lot better until Apple redesigned it due to a lawsuit. Samsung infringed on some of Apple’s patents, and has been for awhile. Some were blatant, while others were unintentional—it happens—there’s only a few ways to really make a smartphone. Still, Samsung bought two patents specifically to fight Apple. That’s sleazy.

With this ongoing fight, people seem to be divided into two camps:

  • Pro-Apple: This trial is about Apple getting justice for the patents and ideas that Samsung ripped off!
  • Pro-Samsung: Apple makes tons of money, is a bully, and is hurting the industry!

I think this lines up perfectly with our psyche that there always has to be winners and losers. I give a friend of mine grief about soccer, especially when the local team started the season with two ties. We enjoy rubbing something in someone’s face when something we like or support defeats something they like or support. Replace Apple and Samsung with the Red Sox and Yankees (or your other favorite sports rivalry), and it sort of lines up. There might be some minor wins, eventually they’ll face each other again, and each time, we’ll get excited to see who wins. Then again, for the sake of the analogy, Lebron James has an app all about him that just launched on Samsung devices. But I digress…

Never mind the fact that the original trial was caught up in appeals and really didn’t feel like it changed anything, especially since the appeals process continued long after the original August 2012 ruling. By the time the amount awarded was appealed, analyzed some more, and reduced, most of us didn’t care.

While that was going on, Apple had filed a new lawsuit, and that’s the one that we saw the preliminary results on Friday. That had been going on since February 2012. At the end of the day, some infringement was found on both sides, as reported by Ina Fried:

The panel ruled that various Samsung products infringed on two patents that Apple had sued over in its latest patent case and found damages on a third patent, awarding more than $119.6 million in damages. However, it found Apple did not infringe on two other patents and also awarded Samsung $158,400, saying Apple infringed on a Samsung patent.

The two patents that Apple infringed on? Coincidentally, they were the two that Samsung purchased.

Personally, I agree with John Gruber’s commentary on the results:

It was never about the money for Apple. Even if Apple had been awarded the full $2.2 billion it asked for, the truth is that’s just not that much money in the grand scheme of the post-PC market. But $120 million? That’s chump change to either company.

It’s hard to see how anything related to this verdict would give Samsung pause before copying Apple in the future. The financial penalty was a mere pittance, and in terms of public perception, they clearly had no shame to begin with.

That said, I still don’t think Apple has any regrets about pursuing this case. It’s about the message it sends to all competitors, not just Samsung: We are irrationally protective of our work, and if you wrong us, we will go after you.

Just as professional athletes make a lot of money just to play a sport, regardless of winning or losing (being on a winning team or demonstrating individual talent may help them continue to make a lot of money), winning feels good, and losing feels bad. Winning this case demonstrates that Apple protects their ideas, and demonstrates some of the slimy things others may try for a minor patent victory (like buying patents specifically for suing your rival).

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