Q&A with Margaret Millikin
Apple's patent case against Samsung may affect consumers
Q: What were the key issues in the patent case that Apple brought against Samsung?
A: The case is a legal war over patent rights in smartphone and tablet technology. Apple sued Samsung for infringing three utility patents and four design patents, which cover Apple products. A utility patent protects the utilitarian aspect of an invention — the way it operates or the new combination of elements that comprise it. A design patent protects the unique, ornamental features of invention — the way it looks. Apple's iPhone smartphone is protected by both types of patents. Apple accused Samsung of willfully copying iPhone technology, such as double tapping an image to zoom, and incorporating it into Android smartphones and tablets. In response, Samsung claimed that Apple's patents were invalid and accused Apple of infringing Samsung's patents.
Q: Were you surprised at the outcome?
A: The jury found in Apple's favor on almost every issue and awarded the largest jury verdict in history — $1.05 billion, an amount that raised the eyebrows of many who have been following the case. The jury determined that Samsung infringed all but one of the Apple patents asserted in the lawsuit and that the infringement was willful in some instances, which led to the large verdict. They also found Apple's patents were valid, and that Samsung's patents were not infringed.
Q: What effect do you expect Apple's win to have on consumers?
A: Samsung has been the leader in smartphone sales over the past several years, so the verdict may swing the balance of competitive power to Apple, which is what a patent is supposed to do for the patentee. A patent gives the owner the right to exclude others from practicing the invention for a period of years, and in exchange the patentee makes public the technology. With the verdict, Apple could seek import bans on Samsung phones and tablets utilizing Apple technology. However, not all of Samsung's products are affected by the ruling. In the main, Samsung's older model phones are enjoined, but newer products are exempt from the ruling. These newer, flashier models are still available for sale in the U.S.
Q: Can Samsung appeal this decision? Do you expect that it will?
A: Samsung can to appeal the decision through the federal appellate court system all the way to the Supreme Court, and most expect that they will. The appeal will pend for several years before final decisions are made. In the meantime, the parties may decide that settlement is a better solution. The dispute is ongoing in various countries of the world, and Apple filed a new suit against Samsung based on other products. In a parallel case between Samsung and Apple in South Korea, the court basically found that both parties infringed each other's South Korean patents. Looking at overall global competition, the parties may investigate a global cross-licensing scheme, which is a legal arrangement sometimes used to settle patent infringement disputes. However, the U.S. case is the center of the dispute and likely will have more impetus in forging any licensing relationship between the parties. Some believe the dispute is really aimed at Google, which developed the Android operating system that Samsung products use. Apple has been waging a proxy war against hardware manufacturers whose products use the Android system, which is now the world leader in OS sales. It's rumored that Apple and Google managements recently engaged in confidential talks to discuss a wide range of intellectual property matters. We may see these companies share their technologies through licensing arrangements.
Don Mecoy, Business Writer