The legal battles surrounding mobile devices, the so-called ‘smartphone patent wars’, are absolutely fascinating.
This week saw Samsung and Apple limbering-up for another US courtroom drama, with Apple claiming to be the great innovator. We’re all supposed to believe that smartphones didn’t exist before they came up with their iPhone. While it’s true Apple came up with a great product, can they really claim a monopoly on rounded corners on a rectangle? Or perhaps a patent on a sliding switch?
I mean, I’ve always enjoyed the beautifully crafted rounded corners on my oak-cased Roberts Radio. And come to think of it, it also had a sliding switch! What gives?
Of course, those in the know tell me there’s much more to it than that, but is there really? It strikes me that Apple is exhibiting the classic symptoms of a monopoly power that’s losing its grip.
The courtroom battle may well be between Apple and Samsung. But be under no illusion, the real battle is between Google and Apple.
And in this battle, I’ve already nailed my colours to the mast. Apple is fighting to maintain its slot as the globe’s top company. But Google is nipping at its heels, and no amount of courtroom drama will keep Apple from being toppled.
This time Samsung has backup
You’ll often hear it said that when it comes to courtroom battles, it’s the guy with the biggest chequebook that wins. And Apple certainly has a fat chequebook.
But it’s not as if Samsung hasn’t got a decent legal team of its own. It has. And I strongly believe that justice prevails in the end. Already it seems Judge Lucy Koh’s Californian courtroom is starting to lose patience with Apple’s monopolistic ambitions.
After all, this isn’t the first time Apple has dragged Samsung into the courtroom. In the first foray, Apple was awarded just shy of $1bn in damages. But in reality, the skirmish was seen as a win for Samsung. The firm was still able to sell its units in the States, and Apple was told to pipe down on most of its claims.
This time round, Samsung is also likely to have Google on its side. The Wall Street Journal reports that Google engineers, including former Android chief Andy Rubin, may testify.
“Google will be a lot more front and centre than in previous cases”, claims Michael Carrier, a patent expert and law professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “Google vs Apple makes it more of a clash of the titans on the same turf.”
And don’t forget, Google also has a considerable patent portfolio. A few years back, Google bought Motorola in a deal that netted precious little more than a library of patents. Google later sold the actual phones business at a massive loss.
It seems that this courtroom drama will be a series of claims by Apple, followed by a whole host of counter-claims from Samsung (aided and abetted by Google).
Apple is turning into a bully
I’ve never been a fan of Apple’s ‘closed-wall’ approach to technology. That is, how it ties users in to its software, hardware and ‘family’ of online products. The business model is based on a monopolistic game-plan. Now, don’t get me wrong, Apple has every right to pursue its business model as it likes.
But public perception is starting to go the wrong way for Apple. Journalists jibe at Apple, suggesting that perhaps French cheesemakers should await court papers from Apple for patent infringement on the rounded corners on a lump of Roquefort!
Nobody likes a bully, and that’s increasingly what Apple looks like.
The fact of the matter is that competition is a delicate balance between innovation and copycat production.
I mean, you only have to look at the fashion industry. The minute a new dress hits the catwalk, the copycats get to work. Next, Primark, you name it. They unapologetically release clone products as soon as they possibly can. That is not to say that these things are Versace or Prada. It’s just that imitation is the best form of flattery – and imitation should be allowed.
Apple is pushing its case too strongly. Now, that may be just my opinion, but there’s evidence that the courts are increasingly taking this opinion too. The courts are getting bored with the patent wars. Increasingly, patents are being used to stifle innovation, rather than enable it. And that’s the complete opposite intention of patents in the first place.
Of course, they’re not the only ones. All the big tech companies play the patent game and suffer patent syndrome. It’s just that Apple is increasingly looking like the giant trying to trample on the rest of the industry.
And as these trials drag through the courts, the battle on the ground continues. And Android devices are winning. What’s more, with hundreds of Android manufacturers competing against each other, there’s no doubt where the genuine innovations are now coming from.
Apple has had its day in the sun. Now all it can do is try to fight to maintain its innovations of yesteryear. And we’re all getting bored with it.