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A big win for Apple, but possibly a loss for consumers

August 24, 2012|By David Lazarus
  • Apple has prevailed over Samsung in its patent case, but consumers might be pinched by higher prices. Above, an Apple iPad.
Apple has prevailed over Samsung in its patent case, but consumers might… (Bloomberg )

The more-than-$1-billion award in Apple's patent case against Samsung is a big win for the iMaker of the iPhone and iPad. But it may not be in the best interest of consumers.

At least not in the short haul.

A jury in San Jose found that Samsung infringed multiple Apple patents for smartphones and tablets. The patents involve the look and feel of devices.

Apple had sought $2.5 billion in damages. In a countersuit, Samsung had demanded $422 million from Apple for what it said were violations of its own patents.

If Apple prevails in the appeals process, it will mean the company has a right to exclusive use of its innovative technology. And that's only fair.

But for consumers, it would mean fewer copycat devices hitting the market and less price competition. And that would almost inevitably mean Apple -- or any other innovator -- would be able to charge whatever it thinks it can get away with.

Look at it like this: Say Louis Vuitton comes out with a new bag. It costs a lot. Other designers come out with knockoffs. They cost less. Louis Vuitton, in turn, cuts prices for its original bag.

Tough knocks for Louis Vuitton, perhaps, but a win for consumers who were attracted to the bag. Now they have choices, and at a variety of price points.

Over the long haul, strict patent enforcement can promote innovation, which in turn can result in cool new products coming to market.

But as someone who hasn't been willing to plunk down big bucks on either an iPhone or an iPad, I've been grateful for the me-too devices that have come out from other makers.

I'd still get an iPad, of course. But not at these prices.

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