Apple’s Big Patent Win, and What It Means for Smartphones

The Apple/Samsung patent trial’s jury shocked everyone by returning a verdict extremely quickly on Friday afternoon. Once we had the full details, I asked the team here at Gear Diary what they thought. Was this a game changer for Android and smartphones in general, or just another chapter in “lawyers gone wild”?

Bryan: Yeah but remember, some of us don’t want to hear it:  😉 (Sorry, couldn’t help myself! :))

Dan: Agreed. Not surprised but I do think people will debate the issue for a long time. After all, as we learn in the Jobs bio, much of what Apple did initially was inspired (or ripped off) from others. So where is the line? (Hence why I was not on the jury.)

I care not about the dollars etc., but I am curious what this means for various platforms going forward.

Joel: I wouldn’t say lawyers gone wild. I’d say a broken patent system. Apple and many others have applied for patents for some pretty obvious things. In the end, nothing changes. There will be an appeal and no one wins, and the one who loses is us…the consumer. Sure, Apple may have won this battle but have they? At some point, Apple will sit on the laurels and litigate. It’s just cheaper for them. Then someone who truly innovates will walk away with the win. Happened to Palm. It can happen to Apple too.

Carly: I think Joel nailed it with the innovation comment. There’s a contrarian view I read this week that if Apple won it would be bad for them, because it would force the competition to innovate, possibly while the iPhone remains stagnant. In the end, everyone needs to innovate, whether they are Apple or anyone else.

Bryan:  Along Joel & Carly’s line of thinking: Can this record-sized patent win for Apple put it in a quasi-monopolistic position where it does indeed do less innovation and use its cash base to buy up other companies to “innovate”, much in the same way Microsoft has done for so long?

Carly: Or, to be contrarian to my own contrarianism, does this encourage Apple to keep innovating and patenting and box out anyone from copying them? Basically, if innovate+patent=profit, do they attempt to repeat the model as patents get circumvented and long in the tooth?

 Christopher: LOL – it’s true – we are all so burned out on this whole thing, but I do think Dan is right and burnout or no burnout, people will be talking about this for a long time. The system has been like this LONG before Apple – MS was “stuck” on Windows Mobile, and it took Apple and the iPhone to “innovate” and break the cycle. There are plenty of examples of this pattern in technology. Innovation always seems to come from the underdogs. Apple was an underdog when it came out with the iPhone – let’s not forget that. Samsung is definitely NOT an underdog – lol. I think, despite their missteps – the next mobile underdog to innovate might be MS with Windows Phone 8.

Carly: An ancillary thought: since Microsoft does own so many companies and patents (and is therefore more insulated against patent issues) do Android handset makers like Samsung take another look at Win8 over Android?


Christopher: I definitely don’t expect to see much innovation from Apple – not in the smartphone space since they found their niche and won’t want to lose it.

Bryan: I suppose that depends: is Apple under new management out on a mission to “wow” consumers, or is the greater risk them fortifying their legal castles as it were? For a business with less threat of immediate competition, why put a lot of ergs into innovation?


Christopher: Well I think it’s more the “Toyota Camry” syndrome. Once you stumble on a formula for success you only tweak – no major changes, because you don’t want to lose what you found. Definitely not a model for innovation.



    Bryan: that’s interesting speculation…Samsung and allied groups jumping Android ship to the “safe” shores of Microsoft…Android though does have a very large and enthusiastic base, despite being fractured, but Microsoft has its own nice tie-in to Office/business users and is rapidly moving towards the cloud (e.g., Office 365/Outlook Online/Sharepoint servers…) and has lots of money and lawyers too.



     Carly: Exactly. Microsoft has money and lawyers and patents. Android may be free, but is free worth the negative publicity and ridiculously expensive legal bills? Especially since they are already paying Microsoft for patents related to Android, right?



    Christopher: Keep in mind that MS and Apple have a lot of legal arrangements with each other so manufactures who go with WP 8 aren’t likely to get sued by Apple – after all, they showed a Nokia 900 as an example of the fact that it isn’t necessary to “copy”. So I think some might view WP 8 as “safe”



    Bryan: Sure, it’s a double-whammy. And there have been a lot of positive reviews of the new Metro–er–whatever interface. Wouldn’t THAT be an interesting development…Microsoft jumping to #2 (as it were) behind Apple…though that may be a reaallly long shot.



    Joel: Hmm. I’m thinking … Could this just be a case of Apple and Microsoft not wanting anyone else to be in this market? If what you guys say becomes true about Apple and Microsoft … you could say just that.



    Carly: Joel, if that happens it will likely be coincidence. I doubt this is a long plan, not with the uncertainty of patents and jury trials.




    Bryan: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Though that seems more like feeding the crocodile.




    Christopher: Well the MS/Apple deals are more a part of them having gone through this crap years ago – now they have that whole “co-opetition” thing happening and agreements to protect each other. Hard to say how it will impact stuff going forward



    Joel: Yeah Carly … I’m just getting a bit wild with that assumption. 🙂 Either way this isn’t good for consumers, Apple or Samsung if you ask me. The only group it’s good for is the lawyers.



    Christopher: And Android isn’t truly free. The consumer ultimately pays for it through info collection and ad revenue generation, but I do wonder if manufacturers will decide that it’s not worth the hassle. I doubt it – I think they have too much invested in it right now.



    Bryan: Shades of trusts and monopolies a la 19th century railroad/steel/oil, Chris? 😉



    Christopher: it seems that the lawyers are always the ones that win!



    Joel: ?Chris, that’s not true anymore. All source for Android is released now. Including Honeycomb. Unless you’re talking about the drivers??



    Christopher: No – Joel – I’m not wrong – Google makes money by getting that platform into the hands of more people because it generates more info and ad revenue.



    Joel: ?Chris, sadly the lawyers always winning seems to be true with all of this…

Dan: I think this has less implication for consumers than many want to make out. Apple will keep doing their thing. Samsung will try to make enough changes to not have an issue. Apple will still wow. Android will still wow (although for the life of me I can’t understand why.) and hopefully ms will really move forward with windows phone.


    Joel: ?Chris, only if you use a Google build. 😉



    Christopher: Don’t all the builds come with the Google apps? And isn’t integration with the Google app suite one of the main points of Android for users? Not just Google builds? Most people don’t root or use custom builds. I stand by my statement – Google makes money by getting the platform into people’s hands. Again – nothing wrong with the motivation – but that is how they make money. Well – one of the ways – lol


Dan: This also makes Apple an even bigger target and the first time they stumble in a real way BAM!!!!!




     Christopher: ?Dan, yup – I was thinking the same thing, except I think they’ve been a big target for a while now – people have been waiting for them to stumble for at least the past 2+ years. Remember when we were waiting for MS to do that?



Joel: ?Christopher, only certain ones. You can technically have an ONLY AOSP build with out the googlefu but almost no one does.




Dan: And the real impact here…. Following its significant court win over Samsung on Friday, Apple is seeking a preliminary injunction against the devices found to be infringing on the company’s patents, citing “irreparable harm” if the units were to stay on sale.


Michael: For me, the bottom line is this: we all acknowledge that iPhone changed the smartphone industry overnight – that is a given. But as many pointed out, some of the patents seem ‘lite’ and hard to avoid. But what the court found was that Samsung went out of its way to copy Apple – ‘willful’. That is very different from the nitpicky cases between Apple and HTC and Moto, which are all about guts and protocols back and forth. I still see Apple as having become a bully by operating through fear of history repeating itself, but I see this saying ‘Apple was right’. As for the future … I have no clue. Samsung has already come a long way in terms of making great devices, so now they just have to continue innovating. Oh … and the Patent system is FUBAR, but had Apple lost it would have sent a worse message about IP protection.

   Joel: Maybe all this ends up meaning is future Samsung devices are designed differently and all come with stock Android and TouchWiz dies…




Francis: Hopefully this just means the end of TouchWhiz, not sure anyone really likes it anyway. I don’t think people buy a Samsung phone because it looks like an iPhone, I just think Samsung made their UI look like Apple’s. Which is a shame because IMO a big part of choosing Android is for the UI.



    Joel: Exactly, Francis. I can’t stand a single touchwiz device I have ever touched.



About the Author

Carly Z
Carly has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to her first PDA (a Palm M100). She quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. She loves writing about ebooks because they combine her two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?