Last week a nine-person jury sided with Apple on a majority of its patent infringement claims against Samsung Electronics. The jury also awarded Apple more than $1 billion in damages. So what does this mean for other Android device manufacturers and the future of mobile device development?
As a consumer of mobile devices and active user of an iPhone 4S and iPad, I wonder what would happen if Apple were the only option on the market for mobile devices. What if there was no more Android? What if Windows 8 flops? Would the market be better off with iOS as the only mobile device operating system? I’m not sure it would be.
By siding with Apple, the jury set a precedent that Apple’s design patents are valid and worth protection, giving it license to go after just about any company with a similar looking product. That could be bad news for any company building a smartphone or tablet.
For example, let’s look at what would happen in the automobile industry if this happened. What if one automobile manufacturer came out with a car that closely resembled another automobile manufacturer, there would be countless law suits from one company to another. Take a look at the two cars below. The first is a Malaysian carmaker Proton’s Inspira and the second is the Japanese carmaker Mitsubishi’s Lancer X. There are plenty of similarities between the two. If you took the logo off the two cars, it would be difficult to tell them apart.
US design patent covers the ornamental design for an object having practical utility. An object with a design that is substantially similar to the design claimed in a design patent cannot be made, used, copied, or imported into the United States. The copy does not have to be exact for the patent to be infringed. It only has to be substantially similar.
The key words here are “substantially similar.” What the jury in the Apple case concluded was that Samsung’s device was “substantially similar” to the iPhone. So what does this mean for the future of Google’s Android. Will the other smart phone manufacturers like HTC or LG subject themselves to the kind of circus that Samsung has had to deal with? Samsung is the strongest Android player, and had the resources to mount the best possible legal campaign. But if all of that wasn’t enough, what chance does the other Android smart phone manufacturers have if Apple were to begin looking at them as well. This could put a strain on new Android devices coming to market.
This might be an opportunity for RIM to make a comeback. The first Blackberry device was released to the market in 1999—eight years before the first iPhone. RIM holds significant patents on its own design, and could possibly work with companies like Google, and the hardware manufacturers to develop a product that could hold its own against Apple in both the market and in the court room.
I don’t having a market dominated by a single smart phone manufacturer is good for consumers. It will be interesting to see how Google will respond to this situation now that it owns Motorola and if the leadership at RIM are smart enough to look strategically at this opportunity and move away from their “Enterprise Only” mentality. It’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out.