Apple won big with Friday’s $1 billion U.S. patent judgment against Samsung. In a sense that seems fair, as Apple revolutionized the cell phone and rival products from the Korean manufacturer and other competitors mostly look like copycats. But if the fear of future lawsuits forces Google, which makes the Android operating system used by Samsung, to push the technology and hardware makers forward, users could benefit, too.
The California jury took Apple’s side in almost all the company’s claims. These ran the gamut from the design of hardware to the appearance of icons and the gestures that users apply to a touchscreen to control it. A verdict in a Korean court earlier on Friday was less one-sided, but it’s the U.S. one that will make the most waves. Beyond Samsung, it’s a direct swipe at Google.
The U.S. legal process isn’t over yet, while litigation is ongoing elsewhere. Despite Samsung’s shares falling as much as 7 percent on Monday, it can easily afford to pay. But the company seems to have miscalculated. Documents in the case showed that Apple had offered to let Samsung license certain patents for $24 per device. Based on the Korean firm’s smartphone and tablet sales, the Wall Street Journal calculates the cost would have been a bit over $500 million so far. Striking that deal with Apple could have turned out cheaper, especially since the judge can triple the awarded damages.
Apple said it only went to court reluctantly, and that it was protecting its values: “We make these products to delight our customers, not for our competitors to flagrantly copy.” Samsung, for its part, said the verdict was a loss for consumers. “It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners, or technology that is being improved every day by Samsung and other companies.”
That exchange encapsulates the broader arguments for and against protecting intellectual property. But the Apple-Samsung case doesn’t have to hold back progress. If the Android camp – which includes Google, Taiwan’s HTC and other handset makers – take the verdict as a challenge to out-innovate Apple, consumers could find themselves with exciting new options. And if rivals can steal Apple’s thunder rather than echoing it, they’d be able to note smugly that the Cupertino company’s seemingly comprehensive patent victory in 2012 was Pyrrhic.