Apple’s legal victory over Samsung – and consumers

Rotten apple by _Tawcan, on FlickrApple was awarded over $1 billion in damages today in a landmark legal decision that was an almost complete loss for Samsung that could leave the company struggling to survive. And though the case could mean the end for Samsung, it will likely leave consumers as the real losers.

A federal jury in San Jose, California, ruled that Samsung infringed on several Apple patents and awarded the iDevice maker over $1 billion in damages. According to USA Today, the ruling is the largest surviving verdict in patent history. (Two larger verdicts were reversed, according to Stanford University law professor Mark Lemley).

Inexplicably, the jury upheld Apple’s patents on their ‘home’ screen layout, the pinch and zoom tap gesture, rounded corners on a rectangular shape (!!!), and even the screen bounceback. Thankfully, Apple did not have the presence of mind to patent the power button since presumably they could also have prevented other manufacturers from being able to ever have their devices turned on.

Analysts were quick to suggest that Apple’s next move will likely be to have the sale of the infringing Samsung devices banned in the US.

The statement issued by Samsung argues the same point:

“Today’s verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer. It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices. 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…

It seems clear to me that this case is just one more example of a patent system that does not protect innovation but instead rewards companies with better legal representation. Intellectual property law has clearly turned the corner. It no longer protects innovators, but instead rewards those who can best game the system.

This decision, and others like it, will crush innovation. It will bankrupt hard-working businesses. It will reinforce a legal framework where expensive representation is vastly more important than the facts, and set a precedent that will keep justice from having any relevance in future cases.

So why should consumers care – the vast majority of whom just want to buy a phone that looks good and works well?

Because I believe Samsung is right when it argues that it will mean less choice, higher prices, a slower pace of innovation and fewer companies willing to even venture into realms where big, well-represented companies are established.

And because hard work and good ideas are supposed to be rewarded in business, not just better lawyers.

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