Apple spanked Samsung so hard their whole family could feel it on Friday when a 9 member jury found that Samsung had violated numerous Apple patents that pertain to the iPhone.
The jury deliberated for only 23 hours, an indication that they found Apple’s chronological, side-by-side presentation of Apple and Samsung product development extremely convincing.
The decision is being hailed as a loss to consumers, but if you look at Apple’s April 15, 2011 complaint (PDF), you’ll see what the jury saw. I’m fiercely opposed to granting endless patent protection to companies that simply want to increase their profits by gobbling up rents. But Apple’s complaint makes it pretty clear that Samsung took the millions that Apple had pumped into dramatic technological and design innovations and basically made a clone of the iPhone, seriously infringing Apple’s market.
Moreover, documents presented to the court showed that Samsung did so consciously and willingly.
And as long as Samsung got away with it, it opened the door for other Android developers to say “what the heck, everybody’s doing it now, it’s just standard modern technology.” But if you think back to how radical the iPhone was in both design and function when it was released, it certainly wasn’t standard then.
Rather than sit down with Apple and license their handset technology (as Microsoft did), Samsung basically took the position of “fuck you, sue me.” Which Apple had the money to do.
Somewhere Steve Jobs is laughing uncontrollably, having pledged all of Apple’s resources to fighting the case.
But not every technology innovator is going to have Apple’s resources to take on multinational titans. Rather than argue that this is a blow to consumers, I think this decision does what patent law is designed to do: protect innovation.
If mega-companies can just reach down and grab any technology that gets developed (as they regularly do) and take the position that they’re too big to sue, it crushes the incentive for all small developers hoping to earn a competitive spot in the marketplace by developing good products. It means companies like Samsung can easily dominate the market, and save money on expensive R&D by simply pumping their profits into making themselves too expensive to challenge in court.
But Samsung was really just a stalking horse for Jobs’ real target: Google. As Rufus D notes over at Seeking Alpha:
In the meantime, the real target here, and the one Jobs was mainly after, is Google. They cloned the functionality of the iPhone with Android, and then distributed it for free to all takers. They have no license agreement with Apple, and they pay no royalties to them. However, several Microsoft innovations were copied in Android, so Microsoft (MSFT) went around and got license agreements from all the handset makers, and thus they receive a royalty for every Android handset sold. Google gets nothing, but freely enables others to infringe on Apple. It is a part of Google’s general strategy to try and destroy their competitors with ‘free’ versions of valuable software, all funded by their ad-click cash cow. Steve Jobs and everyone else in technology have worked together to cross license technologies, create industry standards, and keep the whole ecosystem moving forward in a profitable way. For example, Microsoft has a smartphone license from Apple, and does not infringe with their current and upcoming Win phones. Only Google refuses to play, doing their best to undermine competitors in any underhanded way they can.
It’s virtually impossible to develop a Google-sized monopoly without breaking the law — or having it re-written to suit yourself (Google didn’t spend $6.3 million on lobbying in 1Q 2012 for nothing). And I don’t see how Google picking its teeth with the bones of the small business competitors it has crushed with their own innovations is a boon to consumers.
Samsung will now judge-shop and appeal the award in the U.S. Circuit Court for the Federal Circuit in Washington, DC, hoping to get the $1 billion award lowered.
Meanwhile Judge Koh has scheduled a September 20 hearing on the injunctions Apple has asked for. Apple claims that the infringing products Samsung has on the market are causing them “irreparable harm” — and I daresay they’re right.
Update: In an interview with one of the jurors, CNET’s Greg Sandoval says “the nine-person jury that heard the patent infringement case between the companies knew after the first day that it believed Samsung had wronged Apple.”
Update II: I didn’t read Dave Dayen’s post that argues this is a blow for consumers until after mine was written. He makes a good case that innovation will be chilled and that upstarts “would have to completely design around these landmine patents.” I believe the alternative where competition is chilled because big corporations can just steal whatever technology they want to be a bigger danger, but Dave makes some compelling points and it’s well worth the read. This is certainly a decision we’ll all be mulling over for a while with many implications for the future.