Spanning more than 50 lawsuits in 10 countries, the Samsung vs. Apple court battles began in early 2011 and have since snowballed into a confusing broil of injunctions, appeals, and contradictory rulings. Even though Samsung lost an infringement lawsuit in the United States, the smartphone giant won its cases in Japan, South Korea, and the UK. In the Netherlands and Australia, after initial rulings all favored Apple, the Dutch appeals court and the High Court of Australia overturned injunctions made on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Samsung Ruling in the UK
In one of the more humorous court rulings we have seen in this judiciary mess, UK Judge Colin Birss of the High Court of Justice ruled in Samsung’s favor on the basis that their Galaxy Tabs were simply “not as cool” as the Apple iPad. The Judge later ordered Apple to publish a disclaimer on their website stating that Samsung did not copy the iPad.
Lost Revenue and U.S. Trial Confusion
Even though Samsung is winning some of these cases, they are losing considerable revenue every time a temporary injunction, or ban on sales, is placed on a device. The injunction placed on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 7.7 in Germany could have cost Samsung over 500,000 individual unit sales.
In the United States, after Judge Lucy H. Koh refused to place a sales ban on Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, her decision was later overturned by the court of appeals in May 2012. After a ban was placed on Nexus’ sales, this injunction was again overturned and subsequently allowed Samsung to resume selling the Galaxy Nexus.
After Apple won a $1.049 billion lawsuit concerning trade dresses and design infringement of their smartphones and tablets, Samsung filed an appeal claiming jury misconduct. New information was discovered concerning jury foreman Velvin Hogan’s employment history with Samsung affiliate Seagate Industries, who had previously sued Hogan, implying jury prejudice. Furthermore, many are wondering if a largely pedestrian jury is even qualified to evaluate such a complex case.
Functional Demands and Design Similarities
The functional demands of smartphones or tablets require that these devices look a certain way and fit in a user’s hand. Furthermore, intellectual property consultant Florian Mueller made the point that Apple did not invent the iPhone or the iPad design out of nothing; these devices rely on collectively owned shapes and formats common to thousands of electronic devices.
Overall, the vague and arbitrary nature of these design infringements is mirrored by the mixed court rulings across the globe. Where one judge will claim a violation of intellectual property rights, another judge will overturn the same decision.
For most consumers, this endless patent litigation may appear like a bunch of nonsense. Though this may be the case, if these two tech giants fail to make settlements outside court it could make the smartphone and tablet market even more confusing than it already is. If Apple ends up winning major design infringement lawsuits and succeeding against Samsung in the court of appeals, smartphones and tablets may start looking a bit different. Trying to avoid crossing Apple’s basic design, we might start seeing wildly divergent design specs coming from competing smartphones and tablet companies.
However, patenting basic and essential design specs on a smartphone seems a bit like patenting the design for the spoon or the burrito; it is unlikely Apple will gain exclusive rights to a chassis and interface that drastically increases the usability and functionality of all smart devices. The most likely result of all these court battles will be the exchanging of large sums of money between tech giants and only slight shifts in product prices and design.