Samsung isn't cool enough to copy Apple

Today, UK Judge Colin Birss confirms what Apple fans have claimed for years: Samsung isn't "cool enough" to copy the trendy fruit-logo company. But the result is opposite their meaning about copying badly. Birss ruled that Samsung's Galaxy Tab family of tablets do not imitate iPad, meaning violate Apple's registered design -- they're not "cool enough" and "do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design".

The court gave the win to Samsung by stating that Galaxy Tab 10.1 is different enough to the iPad, being thinner and with a detailed back cover. Apple spokesman Alan Hely doesn't agree, saying: "This kind of blatant copying is wrong and, as we’ve said many times before, we need to protect Apple’s intellectual property". This is what happens when you lose and can't do it with dignity.

The ruling juxtaposes others. Late last month, US District Judge Lucy Koh issued a preliminary injunction against Galaxy Tab 10.1 for violating a single Apple software process patent. But her ruling stands against a rising tide of outrage among judges about frivolous and abusive patent lawsuits. Perhaps Apple is no longer cool enough for many jurists.

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Samsung could use this ruling to their advantage to fight similar claims in other disputes with Apple, and in other countries as well. A ruling in the United Kingdom might change other judges' rulings all over the world. Judge Birss' statements are frank, but they're not the only ones.

Another UK Judge invalidates "Slide to Unlock" Patent

Last week, UK Judge Christopher Floyd, who oversaw the trial between Apple and HTC, ruled that HTC doesn't infringe the four patents that Apple presented during the trial. Further more, Judge Floyd also invalidated two patents, the most famous of the two being the "slide to unlock", with a third one being partly invalidated as well. That's a crushing victory for HTC against Apple. with the Taiwanese manufacturer being able to continue selling its current and future smartphones that use a similar unlocking method in the United Kingdom. This could also have consequences in the rest of Europe as well, where other judges could rule in a similar fashion. A significant blow could be delivered to Apple in the future, as HTC might use the UK verdict to convince upon a favorable ruling in possible upcoming trials.

Considering how easy it was for Judge Floyd to invalidate two software patents (with a third almost invalidated), a shadow of doubt could set over whether software patents should be granted or not. A precedent has been set now and it's likely for another patent lawsuit to be ruled in a similar way in court.

Is There a Need for Software Patents?

Software patent disputes make headlines nearly every day, with lawsuits being filed more often -- and Apple high among the most aggressive litigants. The purpose is simple: To cripple the opponent by cutting off distribution of their products. The consequences are easy to notice as the injunctions start rolling. Patent disputes are out of hand indeed.

Software patents are easier to tackle than hardware patents. With hardware you have to invest in R&D, make prototypes and hire qualified personnel and so on. In order to be successful and protect their intellectual property such companies make large investments. Software, on the other hand, is much easier to develop and it also involves a lower overall cost. Processes are easiest of all, and many disputed patents cover how things are done, such as Apple's victory against Samsung in the United States: Universal search.

The real problem in patent disputes comes from the fact that software patents are far easier to go to trial for, and just as an example, an entire industry of NPEs (non-practicing entities) is responsible for $29 billion in patent dispute costs in 2011 alone.

Is there a point in software patents then? They seem to cause serious financial damage at a company’s expens, thus making patent litigations very attractive.

US Judge Richard Posner dismisses Apple/Motorola lawsuits.

But like Birss, other judges are pushing back. Richard Posner, the US Judge who threw out the case filed by Apple against Motorola, sees the technology industry as a jungle with animals in a constant struggle for survival. He questions software patents' validity: "It's not clear that we really need patents in most industries". He spoke to Reuters last week.

"You just have this proliferation of patents" and "it's a problem" are his observations to the ever increasing disputes over software patents and his reasoning for why we don't need software patents. In my opinion, his statements will cause a few heated discussions over time.

Judge Richard Posner volunteered to oversee the Apple vs Motorola case, which must have been a surprise to both parties, since the case was redirected from a Wisconsin federal court to him. What wasn’t actually expected, considering the large number of patent disputes in court, his dismissing Apple’s request to ban the sale of Motorola devices, claimed to have used Apple patents.

In October 2010, Motorola filed a lawsuit against Apple and the same month Apple sued back. By cancelling the trial he dismissed a possible injunction against Motorola phones. His reasoning: it would harm consumers. He also barred Motorola from seeking an injunction against the iPhone due to Apple’s pledging of a fair licensing of its patent.

Is Judge Posner Right?

Through his decisions to tackle the patent disputes from another perspective Posner has set an example to other US Judges -- there is another way for lawsuits to end and one that doesn’t have to harm something very valuable: consumer choice.

Consumer choice is very important in a free market and it also dictates the market’s choice over a product or another. Taking that away can have dangerous effects over personal choices, which removed can lead to monopoly.

Other trials would have been better ended in a similar matter and would not have caused consumer outrage, like my colleague Joe Wilcox points out.

From my personal perspective I agree with Judge Posner’s reasoning. I admire his decision not to take part in these continuous and frivolous disputes. The recognition of effort and merit through patents is important to our society, but it shouldn’t be used as a weapon to cripple the opponent.

Photo Credit:  Julien Tromeur/Shutterstock

22 Responses to Samsung isn't cool enough to copy Apple

  1. mshulman says:

    I think the problem with patents is that the goal behind them is to protect someone from coming up with something innovative and then have someone buy what they came up with and then create their own copy.

    The problem is that this has an (as I believe it) unintentional effect of punishing someone for perhaps simply taking longer to come up with an idea.  Say two people are working on something and one person comes up with the solution first and patents it.  The other guy comes up with it 2 weeks later and when he goes to file a patent, sees that its already been patented.  It seems there should be some way to over-ride a patent or share a patent if you can prove the steps taken to reach it where not copied or stolen.

    I think the above and patents in general can work fairly well for hardware, but when you come to software, it seems like things that could be very commonly thoughts are often slapped with a patent.  I think its ridiculous that something like slid to unlock can have a patent put on it.  Especially in regards to the iPhone.  After all, i believe slide to unlock as probably been used in many more palces and was nothing innovative that apple came up with.  Cars have had locks you have to slide to unlock, doors have locks that you often have to slide to unlock - its just not something that should have a patent in the first place.

    The more I think about it, the more I think we'd be better off without patents and let companies fight it out by who can make the better product.  Clearly this doesn't work in all situations, so having patents with a shorter life would help reward the first to market.

  2. Brenton Mannon says:

    Got the S3 on Saturday and I'm very happy that the tides are turning towards consumer choice.  I agree with not wanting Samsung to make Apple look-a-likes but from what I've seen they've differentiated their products enough that confusion shouldn't arise.  C'mon, they are made out of different material, have different shape, and the software obviously functions differently.  I just hope this trend continues.

  3. NadaLemming says:

     Good for him.  As a voice from the "uncool" camp, I applaud his ruling to give me a CHOICE! 

  4. bmovie says:

    I think the problem is with the Brits. 
    They are either too wishy washy to offend, or they offend like the obnoxious Gervais. 
    Joe Wilcox is never cool. He's obnoxiously wishy washy.

  5. Murray Bloom says:

    With all this discussion about patents and copyrights buzzing around, I am just curious to know what anyone thinks of the book "Against Intellectual Monopoly" by Bouldrin and Levine. (It is available on Amazon, or as a free electronic copy from there website: http://www.dklevine.com/general/intellectual/againstfinal.htm) They take the position that all patents (and copyrights) are bad and cause more harm than good (and yes, in hardware as well.) I believe it is an interesting read for anyone interested in the subject regardless of what side of the debate you are on.

    • Fill says:

      I think without a way to protect your investment (either media, designs, technologies, etc.) then less companies would be willing to make things if they are just going to be ripped off.  For example, if it were OK to copy blockbuster movies and distribute them for free, Hollywood would stop spending the millions of dollars to produce them and we wouldn't have very good movies any more.

      On the other hand, squatters sitting on a patent portfolio for no other purpose than to litigate is pretty bad.  If you hold a patent you should either use it or lose it.  It is also very frustrating for small business to survive when the mega-corps have patents for everything under the sun.  A quick story/example, I hold stock in a local technology company that makes (amongst other things) devices for the handicapped to interact with computers.  A megacorp has threatened to sue them because they claim they hold a patent on part of the technology.  The sad thing is right or wrong, all the megacorp has to do is initiate any sort of litigation and the small business will have to fold because they simply don't have the funding or resources to fight back.

      • RCS_hkt says:

         There are some good things that have resulted from piracy of movies, music and game software.  Studios now have a policy of releasing new media simultaneously around the world to try to beat the availability of pirate versions.  They have also been forced to adopt fair pricing policies according to each country's consumer's ability to pay.   Give the consumer a good product, that doesn't lag the US release by 6 months and price it fairly and he is less likely to buy the pirate version.  Another example...until just last month it was virtually impossible to legitimately buy online music in many Asian countries.   Now iTunes store is finally available everywhere.  Before it was easy to rationalize piracy if there was no way to buy legitimate product.

      • Nir0 says:

        I think you're confusing patents with copyrights in your first paragraph...so without that paragraph all we really have is "on the other hand"...which means there is no good that comes from patents...according to you (not that I disagree). :)

    • bmovie says:

      Did not buy, download or read the book. 
      Am awaiting for the movie to pirate.
      ______
      We've evolved into a society where we get laughed at for paying for what we can get for free. What we need are indestructive, numbered, "black boxes" that can't be duplicated, opened or looked into. If you want it, you will have to pay for it. 

  6. kronoscornelius says:

    Samsung's products are just better.  They are lighter and thinner.   I hope Samsung does not imitate Apple trying to patent their designs though.  Patents should be use for technical stuff, a design should be protected by copyright, so only a straight copy of it would be infringement.  This thing about similar angles does not make sense.  By that standard a Hyunday Tiburon's design would be infringing on a Camry's patent.

  7. jabberwolf says:

    I guess Apple didnt win the patent of "square and thin"
    I'll give them a patent for being almost useless though!

  8. agenius says:

    exactly. shame that apple seem to disagree..

  9. bmovie says:

    "Other trials would have been better ended in a similar matter and would not have caused consumer outrage, like my colleague Joe Wilcox points out."
    _________
    Do Newbie writers at BetaNews supply their own knee pads or does Joe Wilcox pull them out of his Chrombook carrying case?

  10. Fabian Munoz says:

    Everything Apple does is in ITS best interest, not yours. They design, build, and market devices with specs for YOU to conform to, not the other way around. They tell YOU what you want.

    • bmovie says:

      Oh yes. I want a fat-arsed cellphone with a pen.

      • NadaLemming says:

         That is why CHOICES are good.  If you want a skinny mini, I suggest to wait on the iPhone5 or the HTC Incredible 4G.  Some people do want that larger screen.  Some don't.  Why should I tell you what you want and why should you tell me what I want?  CHOICES!  CHOICES!

  11. anononodon says:

    Gee,  another load of apple fan boi crap?

     

    • Sparxx2k7 says:

       quite the opposite really - if you read the article.

    • NadaLemming says:

       Yeah, let's cripple all competition so we can be using an iPhone constructed from used Popcicle sticks and it will cost $2000.  I just don't understand where these people come from... the Church of Apple?

  12. andrew__des_moines says:

    Patents should absolutely be used to cripple competition -- and therefore reward investment in R&D.  They should not, however, be used to protect common sense or obvious methods (universal search) or modifications of existing technology (slide-to-unlock).  Design differences must be seen in terms of the products they encase.  I.e, Apple seems to pretend it invented the tablet form factor when in fact it most certainly did not.

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