Apple vs. Samsung: WTF is going on?
The battle between Apple and Samsung may be a turning point in the war between Apple and Google. Recently, the Northern District of California ruled in favor of Apple, asking Samsung to pay $1 billion in damages thanks to a design patent ordeal (rounded rectangular corners are novel…who knew?) and a few software/utility patents (tap to zoom, etc.) Apple is now trying to ban Samsung products that use patents upon which the court found Samsung to infringe, like the Galaxy Sii, and has even started a new case looking to ban products like the Galaxy Siii and the Galaxy Note.
What can we expect if these bans go through? Some argue that there will be “fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices” while others argue that there will be “a burst of creativity.”
I side mostly with the “less innovation” side, as other players in the smartphone market may leave out of a fear of accidentally infringing on one of Apple’s patents, or they may leave or not even enter the market because they are not prepared to spend tons of money on litigation and patents to protect their products. As more competitors leave the market, Apple will be able to raise its prices. Those who argue that the decision will lead to “a burst in creativity” feel that the fear of accidentally infringing will not cause competitors to leave the market, but instead to come up with wildly different ideas.
Does our intellectual property system in general lead to less innovation? Boldrin and Levine’s Against Intellectual Monopoly starts by invoking the history of the steam engine- it wasn’t until after James Watt’s patents expired that the steam engine business began to boom because Watt was able to exclude others from manufacturing it. In fact, Boldrin and Levine claim that Watt’s patent set back the Industrial Revolution by a decade or two!
Whether our IP system is “broken” or not, is it even its job to promote innovation? The preamble of the Constitution claims it is, and that Congress has the right “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8). However, some may take a “natural rights” approach, arguing that the role of our IP system is to ensure that authors and inventors benefit from their own work, not necessarily to ultimately benefit the public.
Perhaps it is not the way the patent system runs but instead the judicial side of things- the jury in the Apple/Samsung case got 109 pages of instructions! Is it possible that not everyone on the jury read or fully understood these instructions and instead sided with Apple with things got too complicated?
Despite the decision in the US, courts in South Korea, Tokyo, and honestly most other places have ruled that Samsung does not infringe on Apple’s patents. In fact, a South Korean court banned the sale of the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 4, and a couple of other Apple products.
These particular rulings definitely aren’t over; I can already see years of appeals relating to the recent California ruling. Samsung has already found inconsistencies in the form that the jury had to fill out and has gotten the damage amount slightly reduced. In other words, don’t run out and stock up on Samsung products just yet. Any ban on Samsung is surely to be temporary.