One week ago, the nine-member jury (seven men, two women) ruled in favor of Apple and awarded the company an estimated $1 billion in copyright infringement damages from Samsung. I have stated in recent posts on the lawsuit that I feel as though the majority of Apple’s infringement claims are nothing more than “easing,” according to Anthony Wing Kosner of Forbes. That is, something as simple as automatic capitalization at the start of a sentence (without having to press the upward “arrow” on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad) or autocorrection on misspelled or mistyped words are device conveniences that help users send emails and texts at a faster rate. Apple also sued for simple things such as “tap to zoom,” “slide to unlock,” and the original nature of its icon designs. Samsung lawyer Charles Verhoeven cross-examined Susan Kare, the iPhone icon designer, on the stand and even she had to admit that many of the iPhone’s icons are “universal” symbols that are commonly understood (such as the telephone icon or maps icon, among many others). These symbols are not symbols that were designed by Apple, nor are the colors unique to Apple products. Colors, like symbols, were around long before Apple came along.
Despite Verhoeven’s genius cross-examination against Susan Kare, as well as his brilliant presentation of email evidence when examining iOS Vice President Scott Forstall, the jury still ruled in favor of Apple—though they only awarded Apple $1.05 billion instead of the $2.525-$2.75 billion the company expected. In some sense, the jury believed Samsung on many things, enough to subtract from Apple’s total earnings. In others, the jury believed Apple.
Let me say here that this post is not intended to bash Apple or condemn Apple as an immoral, corrupt company (though I think their actions may seem to indicate this apart from my article). Rather, I want to get you, the consumer, to think about what the ruling means for the smartphone industry as a whole and why I believe the ruling is a mistake.
First, let me say that I believe there are some consumer conveniences that Samsung was not guilty of with regard to copyright infringement. Samsung did not infringe on Apple’s copyright patents when it decided to change some things about its smartphone to match Apple’s. Some things the company changed were related to current tech industry standards and standards-essential patents.
What are some of the patents for which Apple sued Samsung?
- Scrolling bounce
- Double-tap to zoom
These constituted five of the seven patents for which the jury awarded Apple in the case. Look at these features and ask yourself: is pinch-to-zoom an example of copyright infringement? Is this not a basic, haptic interaction with a touchscreen? As I have asked before: if you cannot have multiple ways to touch a touchscreen, why is the screen called a touch screen in the first place? The double-tap to zoom feature fits in the same category as the pinch-to-zoom.
What about the scrolling bounce feature? This feature has been around for so long now that it will be hard to remember a time when it did not exist. Nevertheless, it is a unique visual effect that belongs to Apple. Although I think it is ludicrous (I said what I mean, here!) for a company such as Apple to sue for it, it is a case of copyright infringement. It seems as if, from these few features alone, Apple has an extremely small case against its smartphone rival.
However, a look at the document presented in court against Samsung shows that there are numerous, additional features in which Samsung overstepped their bounds and blatantly dishonored Apple’s patents. Here are some of the infringing features:
- Items #108 & 109: Flying Envelope Icon effect and Email icon effect in delete process
- Item #110: Icon Edit Effects
- Item #111: Page-flipping feature in “Maps” application
- Item #112: Pin dropping to the ground in Maps application when pressed
- Item #114: Trash-sucking fun factor in Memo application when a memo is deleted
- Item #115: Page-flipping function when moving from one memo to another
- Item #116: Picture-attachment fun effect
- Item #118: Music-Player album-spinning effect
- Item #120: Clock-Winding Sound when setting alarm
- Item #123: Dial Pad Pop-up Screen Effect
The list provided above gives only 10 of Apple’s so-called 126 infringements (though I think many of the “basic function” infringements are nothing more than “easing”), but it will suffice. As you can see from the descriptions above, the above ten infringements pertain to visual effects that immediately follow a pressed button for an intended user function. Item #110 is such an example: when a consumer holds down an icon on an iOS device, he or she notices that all the desktop icons start to shake. When Samsung matched up its Galaxy S phone to the iPhone, the company noticed that it did not have an “icon-shaking” motion and made a note in its “directions for improvement” section to add such a motion for user interest. This is not a standards-essential feature for smartphones; how many smartphones need icon motions in order to help the consumer have an intuitive user interface? This may not seem like a large deal to many, but this feature was a brainstorming idea of Apple’s. The company should receive credit for this interesting feature. The closest thing that the icon motion comes to is the “motion” jailbreak tweak at Cydia. Still, nothing at Cydia does what the iOS shaking icon motion does—so there is no case of copyright infringement by Apple.
Because of the above visual features, Samsung was required to pay Apple $1 billion in the lawsuit. Still, I think $1 billion was way too much to pay for infringement damages when you consider the few visual features that the Korean-based manufacturer incorporated into its own smartphones.
Now that the ruling has been handed down, there are some implications that many failed to consider while the court case dragged on for a few weeks. What are some of the implications from the ruling handed down in this case?
Forbes magazine writer Haydn Shaughnessy claims that Apple’s courtroom win against Samsung will do nothing more than trash the Cupertino, California company’s reputation:
“The short piece I wrote on the jury verdict on Sunday has had about a thousand comments now on different sites, equally divided, I think, between those that say: Haydn, you’re stupid (mostly here on Forbes.com) to those that say, the patents are stupid (mostly on Google +).
In the public consciousness, then, the smartness of Apple’s strategy and the validity of its patent claims are by no means as clear cut as they were in the jury’s.
But leave aside the thorny issue of patent law, and the jury’s grasp of their overall power, does anybody want to spend the autumn reading about how Apple intends to use the judgment to prevent people [from] owning Samsung phones? Because in the end it is in the consumer community that Apple’s reputation is going to be trashed. It’s what people think of the brand that matters” (Haydn Shaughnessy, “Will Apple’s Latest Move Against Samsung Seriously Trash Its Reputation?” Forbes Magazine Online, August 28, 2012; http://www.forbes.com/sites/haydnshaughnessy/2012/08/28/will-apples-latest-move-against-samsung-seriously-trash-its-reputation/). Underlining mine.
I happen to agree with Shaughnessy. Please understand that I have loved the company and its products for the last few years. I own a 2011 MacBook Pro, an iPod Touch 3G, and the new iPad (I purchased this about six months ago). Nevertheless, as a writer and reader of Apple news each day, I find the company’s lawsuit and the jury’s decision deplorable. I think that the problem began when Apple applied for the patents: at that time, someone should have taken into account that industry standards for smartphones would change. The situation is similar to the US Constitution: while it was written with binding laws, “amendments” have been added since, making the Constitution flexible for the nation’s citizens without having to write an entirely new constitution each time a new law is debated or discussed. The patents have not been created this way and, sadly, the consumer base will suffer because of the rigid nature of tech patents. How can we plan for the tech industry today without considering all the numerous highways in tech that we could wake up to tomorrow?
Apple’s brand will suffer because of their decision. It already has with me. Although I own a new iPad, and I may consider purchasing an additional iPad, I do not do so with the desire to “keep up with the times.” I would only purchase an additional iPad for the purpose of jailbreaking. I only want to purchase Apple’s devices to gain control over them. The comfort I once had in the company’s products and the joy I gained from getting software updates, I no longer have with Apple. That does not mean that I will never purchase Apple products again; rather, it means that from now on, I purchase the company’s products in order to appreciate the product itself—not because I have faith in the company. For Haydn Shaughnessy and me, at least, the faith we once had in the company has now been displaced. I have lost respect for a company that I once believed had good, honest ethics and operated by them in its products and relationships with its rivals worldwide.
Shaughnessy argues not only that Apple’s name will be trashed in the minds of consumers, but that the company itself does not seem to understand the reality and workings of the tech industry. He writes:
“…there is a cost of iconic status. People copy you, defects and all. Apple’s inability to deal with that should get us asking questions about its liberal arts credentials.
If Apple had really been in the design business then they’d have seen Samsung’s copy as sheer flattery (at least at the trade dress level) and moved on to the next iteration. Design is fashion, a peculiar form of intellectual property that wavers and transforms by the season” (Haydn Shaughnessy, “Why The Apple vs. Samsung Verdict Is A Big Mistake.” Forbes Magazine, August 26, 2012).
Shaughnessy uses the examples of seasonal chocolates and cars (BMW, Audi, and Opel, to be exact) in his article in which he blasts Apple for its recent lawsuit. I have to agree with him. What may have been deemed “unique” when Apple received its patents are now standard smartphone industry regulations; as a result, the patents should have expired some time ago and should not have been presented as evidence in court against the company’s Korean rival. I have mentioned in an earlier article (in which I quote Peter Pachal on the matter) that Wilbur and Orville Wright’s airplane design has become standard in the flight industry since World War I when the US Federal Government made them so. It is said that the Wright brothers sued one individual for his airplane model without suing all future airplane designers. Why? Because preventing other airplanes from coming to the flight market would have slowed down the progress of the nation, not advanced it. Perhaps Apple should take a hint from Pachal’s work.
There are two other major implications of the Apple-Samsung lawsuit that I have yet to reveal. I will cover these in my next post. Stay tuned.