A recent global survey by Time magazine painted a picture of a planet that has become strangely addicted to smartphones, with 84 per cent of respondents saying they couldn’t go a single day without their phones.
Little wonder that Apple’s 1-billion-dollar judgement against Samsung for smartphone patent violations made headlines around the world, as investors rushed to buy Apple’s already high-flying stock and dump shares in the premier South Korean electronics company.
Their assumption was logical: The jury’s verdict would hamper the progress of Apple’s biggest competitor, Samsung, whose latest Galaxy SIII smartphone was handily outselling the iPhone. And with a new version of the iPhone expected to be announced in a couple of weeks, the world’s most valuable company would have the chance to rack up even greater profits.
But it may be a good idea to take a deep breath before calling your broker and gambling your retirement on Apple case.
“Judge Koh seemed to be unduly harsh on Samsung’s lawyers, both in restricting the use of evidence and in trying to control Samsung’s public relations,” noted Maxwell Kennerly, a patent attorney, in characterizing the judge who heard the case close to Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters.
Kennerly noted that a similar case between Apple and Motorola was recently dismissed summarily by Judge Richard Posner, a highly respected jurist. When both cases come up for appeal, judges will have to reconsider the entire scope of recent patent grants, which have been given to Apple for such obvious ideas such as the display of icons in a grid and the design of a rectangular phone with rounded edges.
Other 2007 patents claimed by Apple included smartphone functions depicted years earlier in the Tom Cruise film Minority Report, or outlined by Microsoft founder Bill Gates in his 1995 book The Road Ahead, Kennerly argued.
“There comes a point where even the courts understand that the law as it exists today is doing more to hinder progress than to help it,” Kennerly said, echoing statements by Samsung and Google that the verdict was based on overly broad patents that should never have been granted in the first place.
Duke law professor Mark Webbink pointed out a host of other inconsistencies that, in his opinion, put the patent verdict at risk on appeal: the speed of the jury’s decision meant that they could not have read the judge’s 107 pages of instructions; the jury foreman explained that they wanted the decision to “send a message” to other patent infringers, in clear contravention of the judge’s instructions; the jury erred in awarding damages for devices that it found did not infringe on Apple’s patents.
“That’s why I don’t think this jury’s ruling will stand,” Webbink wrote on his blog Groklaw.net. “This story is far from over.”
Patent expert Florian Mueller, who writes the influential patent blog Fosspatents.com, agrees that the tussle will continue. But he thinks Apple undoubtedly has the upper hand.
“There can be no reasonable doubt that Samsung and Google have engaged, and continue to engage, in ‘copytition’ (competing through copying) rather than wholly independent creation,” he said. “Somewhere the courts have to draw the line and afford some degree of protection to innovators.”