Apple vs Samsung: An unnecessary legal battle
What was the deal with these lawsuits between Samsung and Apple in more than 10 countries?
Design is a subjective field. Even with top-notch market research, the difficulty in creating something that is aesthetically pleasing to the masses still exists. The Blackberry Passport was thought of as the first step for the company to regain lost customers. It features a physical keyboard, a resprayed, intuitive user interface, and many other clever engineering touches. However, it was still received as a niche product for the outlandish consumer who prefers a physical keyboard, rather than an intuitive user experience with an extensive array of hardware. Even with such a bad turnout, some design ideas seen in the Blackberry Passport may be seen in smartphones in the future, creating a trend. However, because of their closed source software, few will dare make the technology and functionality of the Passport's software better for other use . For this reason, the latest companies guard their products and ideas with the GNU open source license, which allows for use of their work to create great innovations under simple guidelines. Apple and Samsung, however, did not believe in adhering to the idea of a design trend or in openly sourcing their work, and believed in keeping latest designs and technologies in the corporate hierarchy. But, similarities in design of both hardware and software led them to have a legal "battle" over 20 patents in 8 countries. Some of these trials dealt with actual user interface and hardware whose creation was original to one company, while others were over such features that were unilateral ideas in the world of technology. Therefore, a legal entanglement as large as the one was nonsensical in some of the items it dealt with. Additionally, such a lawsuit would not have occurred if Apple had made some of their works open source.
It all began yesterday, January 5th, 8 years ago. It was 4 days before the iPhone launch, and Apple filed patents for legal rights over the iPhone's design, and other utility components, such as the A4 processor chip. Apple themselves never built the electronics they designed themselves. They work with Asian companies, such as Foxconn, that complete manufacturing of the different utility components and assembly. The component manufacturer Apple's processor chips, RAM, and flash memory is Samsung. Apple filed a 38-page federal complaint on April 15th, 2011 in the Northern California claiming that Samsung had infringed on Apple's patents, trademarks, and user interface and had a false designation of origin in the design of its Android tablets and smartphones. Seven days later, Samsung countersued on the grounds that Apple had infringed on their patents on mobile communications technology in Korea, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Delaware, as well as with the United States International Trade Commission.
What ensued was a worldwide legal entanglement that ultimately injured Samsung. Many countries ruled in favor of Apple, while some acknowledged it as a ploy to destroy each other's competitors. The German Courts ruled that Samsung had infringed on two of Apple's interface patents, and barred the sale of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in that country, even though Apple had tampered with the evidence. However, the British courts ruled that the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab had differences which made the iPad more appealing to consumers, such as its aluminum back and a simpler user interface, and that Apple should publicly state on its British website and to the media that Samsung did not copy the iPad.
Many of the design features said to be original to Apple in the different trials are actually unilateral in the world of modern technology. For example, in the case of Apple Inc v Samsung Electronics Co Ltd in the United States, Apple argued that Samsung's devices changed progressively from a PDA-based philosophy to a more intuitive one that included touchscreens and fewer buttons only after the iPhone's inception, and that Samsung's application icons were "awkward" copies of Apple's application icons. This is false because both the new application icons and touch screen user interface was a design trend followed by most phone companies at around this time. HTC also made a touchscreen smartphones in 2000, and many other companies. The Nintendo Wii also made rounded rectangle apps in a grid setting. But, these companies did not file a suit against Apple, even though their products before Apple released the iPhone. Additionally, Samsung claimed in the District Court of Northern California that Apple had infringed on its patent of saving photos and videos in folders. However, companies, such as HTC and Meizu, already used the features. In fact, the features of storing items, such as folders and videos, is a distinguishing figure in UNIX based Monolithic and Microkernel operating systems. Therefore, even though Samsung claim that they made use of folders with photos and videos first, its a universal concept that many other interface developers used at the same time.
There are also those patents for technologies which pertain to technological evolution itself, and should have been open source, or at least licenseable, to other parties. In 2012,the US court found that Samsung had infringed on the patent for the "bounce back" feature and awarded Apple in damages. This is the feature when the action of a user dragging their finger to the bottom of the screen in the Mail application updates the inbox with the latest mail. This is a feature that makes a small user interface as useful as possible, without cluttering the screen with extra buttons. Its a feature that changed the way everyone, from designers to consumers, interacted with their device. If it was open source or licensable, it could have been used in places where it could do more than help an iPhone user access their email. Imagine if the "bounce back" feature was used in medical devices and in the stock market. It would allow for more space in the user interface for other important information to be shown on screen. In Japan, Samsung sued Apple claiming that the Californian company had infringed on their data communications patents, which included better connectivity between devices on one network and easy 3G connectivity. If these products were open source, innovators on any platform would be allowed to make these data communications technologies better suited in fields where such a connection matters, such as in education or in health. If, for example, a meditech startup modified Samsung's 3G connectivity and their data sharing platform for devices on one network, they could create a better workflow for doctors and nurses that provides clear, encrypted connection to patient data whether in the office or out on the town.
It is evident that Samsung and Apple have created products with exceptional design and usability. However, their trials in court could have been prevented if they had acknowledged some of their designs for following a design trend, rather than creating it, and by making some of their innovative solutions, such as the "Bounce Back" feature and better 3G connectivity and data sharing over a network, open source to fuel that evolution of technology. Imagine what could have been created if Apple and Samsung hadn't invested such an enormous amount of time in lawsuits worldwide, and instead focused on improving their technology for a better future.