It’s Not About Rounded Corners

April 1st, 2014

The never-ending court battles between Apple and Samsung over intellectual property resumed this week. The two go before a federal court in California for part two of a trial that, in the first case, got Apple an award of $930 million against Samsung for patent infringement.

But the check isn’t in the mail. The case is under appeal, and whoever loses the second trial will no doubt appeal the verdict too. Win or lose, this is the sort of drama that seems fated to play out forever. Well, unless or until the two companies can get together and cut a deal.

Going to trial, Apple is asking for $2 billion in damages and for Samsung to pay a $40 licensing fee for each phone. That, as you might expect, seems way over the top. But perhaps Apple is aiming high with the expectation that a final verdict in their favor would thus be more reasonable.

Now according to a Time magazine report, Samsung is, in large part, a proxy for Google, who created the Android OS and thus may be impacted by the decision, particularly if Samsung loses again. After all, isn’t Google responsible for this whole mess in the first place?

Samsung has taken two approaches to these lawsuits. First it was claimed that it was all about rounded corners, which is decidedly not the case when you actually look at the patents under dispute. Unfortunately, some members of the press went along with Samsung’s spin.

But going into the second trial, Samsung admits some infringement, but claims the patents aren’t really worth a lot anyway. But if you take that seriously, what’s the value of the patents Samsung claims Apple infringed?

The Time report suggests that Apple really doesn’t care about the money, since they have plenty of money. It’s more about the the courts confirming that Apple’s designers and engineers originated many of the features that ended up in the iPhone, and that these features were slavishly copied by Samsung and other companies.

As you might recall, when the iPhone was first launched during a Macworld Expo keynote in January 2007, Steve Jobs made a strong point of the fact that it was patented. His Keynote slide presentation used that word as a bullet point.

Indeed, Jobs later vowed, in a widely quoted statement, to wage “thermonuclear war” against the companies he felt ripped off the iPhone. Thus the lawsuits against Samsung and other companies. Yet Apple has already made deals with HTC and Nokia over intellectual property. Lawsuits against Apple filed by Motorola Mobility went nowhere, despite Google’s hopes that the huge patent portfolio they acquired when they bought the ailing handset maker would produce paydirt.

In order to drive home the point, Apple made software engineer Greg Christie available for a Wall Street Journal interview. Christie was one of the key members of the original iPhone team, and is named on some patents covering some product features. Although the article was all-too-brief, his story about how the iPhone came to be is compelling. One anecdote was particularly telling, that Jobs almost dismissed his team and was ready to assign another group when development fell behind schedule.

If you take the details at face value, you almost believe that the iPhone was built in an alternate universe with very little reference to existing smartphones, which had physical keyboards. It’s also interesting to see how, after the iPhone was released, other smartphones began to take on similar design characteristics, such as the use of a virtual keyboard.

Indeed, it was telling that, at one point in the original trial, Samsung’s lawyers couldn’t tell the difference between one of their tablets and the iPad. That surely didn’t go over well with the trial jury, who quickly found Samsung guilty, and Apple innocent of infringing on any of Samsung’s industry-standard patents.

But you wonder just where Google stands in all this. One published report suggests that some Google executives might actually testify, which would, one expects, bring home the search giant’s involvement in these matters.

Now Samsung still earns a bunch of cash by providing parts for the very products that are allegedly being infringed upon. So they are building the A7 processor that’s in the iPhone 5s, the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina display. While there are published reports that Apple has been working to take its business elsewhere, you’d think Samsung would like to keep that business. If all it took was a few design changes, why not? Would Samsung sell fewer Galaxy smartphones? Would Android have fewer users?

Some critics are suggesting that, at the end of the day, tech gear will cost more, and there will be fewer innovations if these lawsuits continue unabated. I wouldn’t presume to guess how all these legal skirmishes are impacting the industry, except for one thing: Would Samsung have sold fewer smartphones if they didn’t resemble the look and feel of the iPhone? Just asking.

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6 Responses to “It’s Not About Rounded Corners”

  1. Monotonous Langor says:

    What part did Eric Schmidt play in the transfer of ?’s IP to the Android team?

  2. Articles you should read (April 1) says:

    […] “It’s not about rounded corners: The never-ending court battles between Apple and Samsung over intellectual property resume this week. The two will go before a federal court in California for part two of a trial that, in the first case, got Apple an award of $930 million against Samsung for patent infringement.” — Read the article on > […]

  3. Kaleberg says:

    Where is the old Palm OS in this? I gather Palm “borrowed” heavily from the Apple Newton, but Palm was selling a touchscreen phone (the Pre) well before the iPhone came out. I’ll admit the Palm OS didn’t have IOS’s pseudo-physical interface, but it did have scrolling, virtual keyboards, apps, icons, internet connectivity and a host of other features we see as part of the iPhone package.

    You’d think Google and Samsung would have covered their tracks more carefully, building from the Palm and retracing Apple’s steps, rather than directly copying Apple. I was surprised when HP bought Palm. Google would have been a better fit.

  4. Dorkus Maximus says:

    It’s an interesting argument that there will be less innovation if Samsung is found in violation of Apple’s patents. One would think that if Samsung is violating Apple’s patents then they are failing to innovate on their own. Forcing them to abandon their infringing behavior would require that they be more innovative rather than less.

  5. Mark Goodwin says:

    I’m not at all in favor of the never-ending battle between these two technology giants. It’s just a waste of time and money on their parts, why can’t they just get along and focus on making better phones for everybody. I understand that competition gets the best of them but I’m one of those who don’t care about it. I just want better phones and that’s it.

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