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  • Apple’s Legal Skirmishes Are Far From Over

    August 28th, 2012

    So Apple got a favorable jury verdict in a California Federal court. Our favorite fruit company was awarded over a billion dollars, although it may be years, if ever, before the check is in the mail. Samsung’s stock price is down, while Apple’s has soared. Is it time to take out the champagne glasses yet and celebrate?

    I suppose it’s only logical for Apple fans to feel vindicated. What Steve Jobs and Tim Cook said was clearly true. Other companies were busy stealing Apple’s inventions and producing knock-off smartphones, tablets, and so on and so forth. It had to be true, because the jury said so.

    But court actions of this scope aren’t so cut and dry. Yes, Apple won the jury verdict, but the case is far from over. On September 20, Federal Judge Lucy Koh will consider motions by Apple to ban eight Samsung smartphones that allegedly infringe Apple patents. At the same time, Judge Koh could decide whether to invalidate all or part of the jury’s verdict, and, if upheld, whether Apple is entitled to triple damages because the infringement was willful.

    Certainly Samsung’s lawyers will be busy filing their own motions, and that’s before the appeals process begins. If Samsung’s appeal fails, they could move to a higher court, maybe even the U.S. Supreme Court, with no guarantee that anything is going to change. Months can easily become years, although the Samsung products named in the case will be long out of production. In the meantime, it’s certain that Samsung will be busy redesigning their current products in efforts to workaround Apple’s intellectual property. In fact, that appears to have already happened in some cases.

    In addition, this single action, although sending shock waves through the tech industry, won’t necessarily slow the number of legal filings around the world. Armed with this singular victory, Apple is apt to be tempted to go after other companies, maybe even Google, who appears to be blaming Samsung for the infringements, saying it was due to their custom additions to Android.

    As you readers know, Samsung is perhaps the world’s largest seller of components to Apple, but that division is run separate from the mobile division. However, it’s also possible that Samsung’s executives will be anxious to put this embarrassing episode behind them and attempt to make some cross-licensing deals with Apple. In the end, Apple could receive hundreds of millions of dollars from Android licensees, most of whom are already paying Microsoft to license their intellectual property.

    You’d think this legal by-play would encourage these smartphone makers to look elsewhere for an OS. It’s possible some might want to try the WebOS, from the former Palm division of HP, which has been open sourced. Apple never went after Palm, although it would take a lot of expensive development to make WebOS up to date and more competitive with the iOS and Android.

    Another possible beneficiary is Microsoft. Apple already has cross-licensing agreements in place with Microsoft, and at least some handset makers who build Android gear have also licensed Windows Phone. Smartphone makers would have an opportunity to use a platform that isn’t involved in these legal skirmishes, and some analysts are already suggesting that Windows Phone might indeed suddenly become relevant rather than an afterthought.

    Unfortunately for Microsoft, people who buy smartphones have largely ignored Windows Phone. A big ad campaign by AT&T to push the Nokia Lumia 900 didn’t do so well. Sales remained tepid, and Nokia continues to lose bundles of money on their smartphone division. As the first Windows Phone vendor among equals, you’d think Nokia would want to consider other alternatives.

    It’s also true that such smartphone makers as HTC have tried Windows Phone and failed. That companies are anxious to ditch Android isn’t going to make the public suddenly adore Windows Phone. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

    Perhaps there’s room for Research In Motion, assuming the beleaguered company is interested in licensing the BlackBerry OS. But that might be the only hope for RIM.  But smartphones powered by BlackBerry won’t suddenly become best sellers because smartphone makers are swearing off Android. At worst, Apple’s legal victory may slow the development process of new gear, as Google and their licensees work harder to make sure that no OS, app features, or trade dress match Apple too closely.

    I suppose it’s even possible one of the smartphone makers will consider building their own OS, although Samsung’s efforts in that direction haven’t spread beyond basic feature phones. The same is true for Nokia, who set aside Symbian and embraced Windows Phone, at least for smartphones.

    Now some of the critics would rather suggest that the customer is being hurt, because there will be fewer products on the market. I’d rather think that we might see fewer models, but they’d be more innovative, maybe even offer features that take smartphones in a new direction, as handset makers struggle, for once, not to imitate Apple. How can anyone say that would be a bad thing?

    Meantime, the legal skirmishes will continue, and some suggest the situation may only get worse before it gets better.



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