The seemingly never ending saga between Apple and Samsung that began in 2011 has seen another day (month) in court. On the surface this may seem like another sweeping victory for Apple, but the war isn’t over and that might be what really matters.
The ongoing tension between the two companies has been well documented by the IPilogue. Visit here, here, here and here to trace the progression of these legal battles. When Apple filed suit against Samsung in 2012 for infringing on several of its patents, Samsung returned with a counter suit claiming that Apple had been dabbling in some infringement of their own.
On May 5th, a Californian jury decided that, in fact, both companies had infringed on one another’s patents and each company was rewarded damages accordingly. Apple was ordered to pay Samsung $158,400 for infringing on US Patent number 6,226,449 for photo and video organization in folders. Of the 5 Apple patents at issue in this case, Samsung was found to have infringed on only 3. All of Samsung’s devices infringed on Apple’s ‘quick links’ patent while only some devices infringed on the ‘slide to unlock’ as well as the ‘automatic word correction’ patents. Based on the jury’s findings, Samsung was ordered to pay Apple $119.6 million in damages, significantly less than the $2.2 billion they had asked for.
So can we find a clear ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ in all of this? It really depends on how you look at it. Looking at the damages alone, it may appear to be a ‘win’ for Apple. On the other hand, Apple not only asked for more money than they were awarded in this case, but also asked for a sales ban on Samsung’s infringing devices. According to news reports, the outcome of the trial was not what Apple had hoped for and unsurprisingly they have already set the wheels in motion to appeal the verdict. Apple has asked presiding Judge Lucy Koh for a retrial to recalculate the damages Samsung should be required to pay as well as to issue a sales ban on the infringing devices. This prospect seems unlikely given that Judge Koh has twice (here and here) refused these requests.
What was particularly interesting about this case, and what Samsung argued in court, is that many of the aspects of their phones that were thought to infringe on Apple’s patents are actually part of Google’s Android operating system that powers Samsung phones. Though this argument did not officially influence the jury’s decision, it brings up an interesting question. Why doesn’t Apple go after Google? After all, Steve Jobs reportedly did say in his biography written by Walter Isaacson, “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.” One likely reason is that it is difficult to go after Google head on when they offer their operating system for free and do not directly profit from it. In comparison, the device manufacturers are much easier targets.
Recently, Apple agreed to drop a number of patent lawsuits with Motorola Mobility, which Google had acquired in 2011 but decided to sell to Lenovo Group Ltd. in January 2014. The sale was for a fraction of what Google had paid and as part of the deal they maintained the majority of Motorola’s patents. Apple was in fact in legal battles with Google, even if indirectly, but decided to stop litigation. Why? Perhaps because both companies had already invested far too much time and resources in the battle. I think another reason, and one that seems more prominent, is that Apple would rather focus on the bigger fish in the sea.
Motorola is no longer a big competitor for Apple, which makes them less of a threat and perhaps not worth spending millions of dollars in legal fees fighting against. Samsung, on the other hand, may be worth their while. Particularly if they are able to secure a ban on their infringing devices.
At the end of the day it seems that Apple is not as concerned about enforcing their intellectual property rights as they are about maintaining a stronger share of the smart phone and tablet market. Then again, perhaps these two things aren’t so different in the first place. In my opinion, the fact that Apple is willing to drop lawsuits with smaller, less threatening manufacturers, signals that this is not about recovering all of the time and money that went into the research and development of their devices or the fact that companies have infringed to produce cheaper versions of what Apple spent years developing. This is what is argued and can be argued legally, but the reality is that the decision to pursue legal action going forward will likely have more to do with which company is most successful in detracting from Apple’s own share of the market.
Maggie Reid is an IPilogue Editor and PhD candidate in the Communication and Culture program at York/Ryerson University.