So Apple won its patent claims against Samsung in the United States, big surprise there. Those of us really invested in the patent war between Samsung and Apple have sat in our various circles debating the decision and tweeting our approval or disapproval of the jury’s decision. But I am not done.
The case focused around Apple’s claim that Samsung “slavishly” copied its mobile products (specifically the iPhone and iPad). Samsung countered with a defence that it didn’t.
The US jury mostly agreed with Apple, ruling that several of Samsung’s devices had infringed on Apple’s software and design patents, awarding the Cupertino-based giant US$1.05-billion in damages. The nine-strong jury, however, dismissed Samsung’s claims that several of its patents had been contravened and awarded it no damages.
In South Korea however, judges ruled in favour of Samsung in its own patent case against Apple in that country. The ruling declared that Samsung didn’t copy Apple and that the US company had in fact infringed on its wireless patents.
The United States and South Korea are only two of the countries in which this global smartphone battle is being waged. There are patent violation claims from both sides in nine countries with bans, partial bans and counter bans. Australia, Germany, Holland and France are some of the more high-profile ones.
Simply too complicated for a jury?
This is not just about Samsung and Apple, there is a far more sinister battle going on here. As my colleague Martin Carstens eloquently put it, “It’s not about design elements or wireless patents. It’s about Apple getting whipped by Samsung — and Android.”
Samsapple was a case of trial-by-jury and the basic premise for involving a jury is that they represent the common public and therefore are more likely to judge in line with generally accepted values of the society. Wonderful.
I understand the jury system and I understand its place in society but I can’t help but think that this was not a case for a jury. The nine member jury had 109 pages of instructions to wade through before delivering its verdict on Friday. The judge, Lucy Koh, before the verdict was handed down “expressed concern” around what was ahead for the members of the jury, stating that they could be “seriously confused”. The instructions, which included recaps of accusations, key terminology, and directions on how to operate the smartphones and tablets were immense. So was the case too technically complex for the jury?
The jury’s decision was made after only 22 hours of deliberation… just 22 hours? Surely a decision on whether or not a company loses a sizable share of its market, should take some time. Ruling in Apple’s favour gives the company grounds to file for an injunction (which it has now done) to stop Samsung from selling its products in the United States which will cause billions of dollars in revenue loss if granted. Would a jury truly understand the complexities of the mobile industry and what it means for the world if only Apple is allowed to manufacture rectangle-shaped devices?
I am not alone in thinking that this should not have been left up to a jury. According to a Wall Street Journal report:
Many have questioned whether such complex cases can be decided by juries, while a federal judge recently threw out a high-profile case between Apple and Motorola, saying the patent system was in “chaos.” Lawyers and judges warn that mounting patent litigation—including cases that encompass everything from smartphones to video game consoles, will mean mounting costs for consumers.
“Software patents are clogging the system at every possible point,” says Christal Sheppard, an assistant professor of law at the University of Nebraska College of Law. “This could be the bellwether case that goes to the Supreme Court to decide what invention in the 21st century really means for software.”
The interesting thing about this particular case is that on more than one occasion both companies were advised to talk to each and settle out of court by the judge. I am not sure if they were being pig-headed or were being advised by attorneys who were clocking some insane billable hours but I think when a judge presiding over your case says “it’s time for peace,” you take notice.
A case for the locals
We understand that jurors receive training, are sworn in and were rigorously interviewed by both Samsung and Apple, but was justice really served by having the case in Apple’s backyard, packed with local jurors who have a stake in Apple’s success? We’ve seen how Apple products create an almost irresistible, irrational desire in consumers, so we have to ask, how independently minded were these jurors? Did they diligently and objectively listen to the evidence, and then go home and play on their iPads? This may or may not have caused bias — and may seem trivial, but it’s a question that needs answers, and we have to be open to questions about bias that may exist in a jury that all hail from California. Were the jurors asked which devices they used and which ones they preferred during their jury interviews?
Why was this case not held in a neutral territory? Why were jurors, not skilled in objective arguments and legal theory, chosen for the task as opposed to experienced legal practitioners like judges? I suppose Apple pulled out the Seventh Amendment, which allows for a trial-by-jury in a civil case in a federal court. The company is entitled to do that, but we ask again: was justice served?
Apple, the new big bully?
Apple won in its own country, Samsung won in its own country — is this really a fair assessment of what is right? Courts in Europe, including The Netherlands, France, Italy and Germany don’t seem to be on board with wireless patent violations as much as the US and South Korea are. According to reports, European courts “have rejected similar claims by Samsung that Apple violated its wireless patents, with judges arguing that the patents have become part of industry standards”.
Samsung is quite happy to take the innovation high ground here stating that it trusts “that the consumers and the market will side with those who prioritize innovation over litigation, and we will prove this beyond doubt”.
I am a fan of choice. Has the jury given Apple the ammunition it needs to go after other mobile manufacturers? Other manufacturers such as Sony, HTC and LG should prepare themselves in the US market because this verdict allows Apple to affirm its ownership of fundamental design details such as rounded corners, slide screen unlock and edge-to-edge glass fronts.
Is Apple about to become the new Microsoft, with its millions of patents dominating the PC world? Is the mobile world about to become slaves to Apple’s long list of patents?