Don't mess with Apple about the curves on the corners of its smartphones. Oh, and if you're an Android developer, God forbid if you try and copy the Bounce.
Those are only two of myriad intellectual property messages that came out Aug. 24. That was when a federal court jury in San Jose, Calif. decided to punish South Korea-based connected-device maker Samsung with a $1.05 billion damages slap for ostensibly copying Apple's products.
After three days of deliberation, the jury found that Samsung purposely infringed on Apple's mobile device patents in the design of its tablets and smartphones, which led to the sky-high dollar total.
Apple is making no qualms about going hard legally after Samsung, its Android operating system and the rest of the $219 billion smartphone and tablet market. It already owns about 62 percent of tablet sales with the iPad but it is facing a receding 17 percent of the smartphone market with the iPhone. Android, with 68 percent of the world smartphone market, has a huge advantage -- one that would take several years to supersede.
Android Kicking iPhone's Rear in the Market
Therein lies Apple's motivation for this case: Android is kicking iPhone's rear all over the world, and iPhone is losing. Android Inc. co-founder and Google Senior Vice President of Mobile and Digital Content Andy Rubin tweeted Aug. 29 that more than 900,000 Android devices are activated each day. Not only that, Rubin said, but last Dec. 24 and 25 alone, about 3.7 million Android devices came online.
Samsung can shrug and write a check for $1.05 billion right now, since it has more than $21 billion in the bank, but any red-blooded multinational corporation with a sense of self-worth certainly isn't going to roll over like that. Suffice to say lawyers will be kept busy at $400 per hour (or whatever they earn) for at least a few months.
The latest news on the case is that Apple is now preparing to obtain court injunctions against Samsung against the sale of Samsung's 152 smartphones and tablets, including its popular Galaxy brand, in the United States. If these injunctions are sanctioned by the court, the repercussions of this case become a huge market issue for Samsung, but not for millions of people around the U.S. and the world who already have bought Samsung phones.
Phones generally last two years or more, and we probably won't see changes in pricing or in the products Samsung makes until 2014 or 2015. By then all-new phones might be on the market that are better than anything we have now -- who knows?
Legal Issues Remain
In the meantime, Samsung still has much to sort out legally.
"Actually, in Samsung's case, it might be wise for them to settle with Apple as soon as possible, since the jury found willful neglect of the copyright laws," a prominent, nationally known San Francisco attorney told eWEEK. "It could get worse for them the longer this thing goes."
Samsung products found to have violated Apple patents included the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Galaxy 10.1 tablets and smartphones -- specifically the Captivate, the Galaxy S line, the Fascinate and the Epic 4G. In the case of most patents, the jury ruled that Samsung's infringement of the intellectual property inside them was "willful."
Judges don't care for the term "willful." They tend to become rather harsh when terms like that one are included in a jury decision.
One of the specific patents jurors determined Samsung had copied from Apple is around the Bounce, which is what happens to content on the screen of any iOS device when a user scrolls down to the bottom of a page, and the page sort of "bounces" to let him or her know the end has been reached. Subtle, but it is part of the whole Apple brand.
Bounce Just One Example
It turns out that virtually all Android devices also have the Bounce, whether manufactured by Samsung, HTC, Motorola or whomever. Apple, in no uncertain terms, contended that this practice is a no-no and is a blatant copy attack on the look and feel -- well, feel, at least -- of the devices that so many people know and love, about which they like to talk about in Genius Bars, and for which they pay large amounts of money.
Can Samsung pay the fine, promise not to copy Apple anymore, and then just go out and use Android to develop a newer, faster, better phone that can drive cars, do laundry and order pizzas for us with no supervision?
That may be what it takes to keep Siri at 17 percent market share.
Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features and Analysis at eWEEK. Twitter: @editingwhiz