Thoughts on the Apple v. Samsung verdict

There have been a lot of mixed opinions on the interwebs about the outcome of the Apple/Samsung trial. While many see it as a great win for originality and inventing your own stuff, others see it instead as an affirmation of a broken patent system. 

Looking at the facts and with my understanding of patent law (which is probably about as extensive as that of the jurors in this case), it’s clear that Apple should have been victorious here and rightfully won. That being said, I don’t think such patent laws should exist, and I don’t think this case is really going to benefit anyone except maybe Apple shareholders.

If you look at some of the things Samsung was doing that copied Apple, you see at first glance some egregious copying of designs. Sure, Samsung’s butthurt response made a smart ass remark about rounded rectangles. Perhaps they are referring to the rounded rectangle shape of these? 

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Or maybe these were the rounded rectangles you were referring to?

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I mean, come on, Samsung. Yes, it’s possible the jury took liberties with its verdict and found Samsung to be guilty of infringing more than it really did. But there are many examples of some very egregious ripoffs of Apple’s design, and such flagrant ripoffs should probably be punished in some way.

However, I still believe the patent system is broken and it fails to take into account that even if you have an idea and maybe you stole it, implementation is hard and that is just as true in technology as it is in other places. Maybe copying a book is an easy implementation, or perhaps seeing a new brake design on a car is easy to implement a copy of once you’ve seen it, and the patent system is meant to protect things that took perhaps a lot of effort to design, but once done are very easy to copy. 

But electronics hardware and software just aren’t like that. Although it is possible to make a device that looks uncannily like an iPhone at first glance (regardless of whether your goal was to trick the customer into thinking they were buying an iPhone), it surely won’t take long for you to start using it and realize that it’s no Apple device, unless maybe you’ve never used an Apple device before. Maybe that’s Samsung’s target market?

But implementing something is hard work. Even if Samsung managed to design a product that looked pixel-for-pixel like iOS and had all the same little effects and behaviors that make up iOS’s iconic design, I still think Samsung would deserve any success they got from it. Long term, the people making the best products will be the most successful. 

Yes, Apple will say that once you see a great design, it will always seem obvious in hindsight. That’s why before iPhone was created, smartphones all looked like crap, and after iPhone, they all started looking more like the iPhone.  And Apple lawyers will say “See? See?” But Apple themselves are notorious for stealing great ideas and incorporating them into their own products. Was the GUI invented by Apple? Nope. Was high speed networking invented by Apple? Nope. Was the concept of having workgroups of interconnected computers and shared resources invented by them? Nope. Was the concept of keeping your data in a cloud invented by them? Also nope. Those ideas all can be credited to Xerox PARC. Xerox’s prototypes of these were probably a lot worse than what Apple landed on, but Apple wouldn’t have been able to even land on them had Xerox patented this stuff and been more litigious. 

When ideas can freely compete with each other on their own merit, everybody wins, and especially consumers win. So what if Samsung wants to make things that superficially look like iPhone? Their customers will largely either end up using iOS in their next contract because they had a bad experience with Android or they’ll just stick with it because it’s not Apple and they’d rather have a bad experience than use something that came from Apple. And so what if Samsung copied an idea of Apple’s? Apple still came up with it first and while Samsung is playing catch-up, Apple will always be on their next great thing.

What’s going to happen here is Samsung’s going to continue to talk to the public like the entire debate was on rounded rectangles (give me a break) and now they’re going to start to get lawyers involved in the product design process. Is that going to make their product better in any way? Nope, it’s just going to help their product not get them sued. What Samsung should be focusing on is making a user experience that is innovative in ways totally different from what iOS is doing (Windows phone comes to mind but there are other great ideas too). Samsung doesn’t respect their users enough to actually do it the hard way, so they’ll just look at key offending components that are infringing sand them down and make them worse just enough to make the product follow the letter of the law. 

Apple’s going to take the $1 billion (or probably less after Samsung appeals and pisses and moans about how it’s unfair) and throw it into their giant vat of money and feel vindicated from that time when they unsuccessfully sued Microsoft in the 90s for stealing a lot of Mac OS’s design language. Was Apple ever really damaged by what Samsung did? I doubt it. They’re already more profitable than Samsung. For many quarters the thing holding Apple back from selling more iDevices has been their own production capacity. 

Could there be a happy medium some day? I hope so. I’d love to see a situation where Apple openly licenses use of some patents or technologies to Samsung for a price on the condition that the user experience on those parts of the phone are as great as can be, and I’d like to see Samsung in turn try more new things and take mobile UIs in different directions that in retrospect might seem obvious. 

Peace out. Namaste.

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