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Apple's victory over Samsung could mean more lawsuits

Some predict the ruling will force manufacturers back to the drawing board, as they seek to design smartphones and tablets that wouldn't violate Apple's patents.

August 26, 2012|By Dawn C. Chmielewski and Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times
  • An iPhone from Apple, left, and a Galaxy from Samsung are displayed in an electronics store. Apple's court victory over Samsung could set the stage for more lawsuits.
An iPhone from Apple, left, and a Galaxy from Samsung are displayed in an… (Park Ji-Hwan, AFP/Getty…)

Steve Jobs didn't live to see the outcome of the bruising war that pitted his iPhone and iPad against mobile devices that use Google's Android software.

But he issued the call to arms.

"I am going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this," Jobs told Walter Isaacson, author of a posthumously published biography of the Apple co-founder. "They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty."

Apple won a resounding victory Friday in a lawsuit against Samsung Electronics Co., in which jurors found the South Korean manufacturer had infringed six of Apple's patents for mobile devices. The $1-billion award is among the largest intellectual property awards on record.

It could well set the stage for other legal challenges.

The stakes are incredibly high. The global smartphone market, which international financial services group Credit Suisse estimates could reach $207.6 billion this year, has sparked lawsuits around the world as the various players jockey for position.

Already, smartphones powered by Android made up about 68% of worldwide shipments in the second quarter, according to research firm IDC, compared with Apple's 17%.

Samsung is fueling the growing popularity of the Google system, according to IDC. The manufacturer shipped 44% of all Android smartphones worldwide in that quarter.

"The smartphone patent wars are taking place in many courts in this country, and all over the world," said Rutgers University law professor Michael A. Carrier. But the decision was a landmark.

"This is the first time that the court has found that one of these manufacturers has infringed patents of a company like Apple," Carrier said. "So it really is pivotal, because Samsung is the leading manufacturer of smartphones in the U.S. today."

Some experts predict the Samsung ruling will send manufacturers back to the drawing board, as they attempt to design smartphones and tablets to avoid violating Apple's patents.

Samsung, which planned to appeal the verdict, said the court decision stifles creativity.

"Today's verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer," the company said in a statement released after the verdict was announced. "It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices."

It was no surprise that Apple saw it differently. Jobs pulled the company from the brink of bankruptcy in the late 1990s with groundbreaking design and software. The Bondi blue iMac, introduced in 1998, marked a radical departure from the bland beige boxes that dominated computers of the time.

Then came a string of revolutionary products — including the iPod music player, iPhone and iPad tablet computer — that fueled Apple's rise to become one of the most valuable companies of all time.

"We value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on Earth," Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook wrote in an email to employees. "And we do this to delight our customers, not for competitors to flagrantly copy."

Technology analyst Colin Gillis of BGC Financial worries that rather than fostering greater creativity, the $1-billion verdict might discourage new entrants in the market for fear of attracting a lawsuit from a deep-pocketed competitor like Apple. To cite an example, he noted that Internet giant Amazon.com is scheduled to make a big announcement Sept. 6 in Santa Monica, spurring speculation about new products.

"When Amazon does its big event in September, is it going to be a phone?" said Gillis. "Because if it's a phone, they're going to be sued probably on Sept. 7; no joke."

The next big shoe to drop in the Apple-Samsung case is scheduled for Sept. 20, when there is a hearing on whether to ban infringing Samsung phones from U.S. stores.

Some legal experts say changes are inevitable for Samsung.

Christopher Carani, a partner in the Chicago-based intellectual property law firm McAndrews, Held & Malloy, said Samsung could be forced to "go back to the drawing board and sit down and seriously think about design."

Others said the effect will be limited.

UCLA law professor Douglas Lichtman said the fixes could be as simple as offering software upgrades. For example, one of the decisions in the case was that Samsung infringed Apple's patent concerning screen icons.

"Icons sitting in perfect rounded squares, for instance, will be replaced by icons sitting in smooth circles," Lichtman said, "or icons sitting directly on a uniform black background. No big deal."

Addressing design similarities to Apple's products could be thornier.

"It is hard to change hardware once it is already produced," Lichtman said.

Major overhauls take time. Jefferson Wang of IBB Consulting, a wireless industry consulting firm, said big design changes can require an 18-month to 36-month turnaround.

A major reset could produce exciting new products for consumers. But Santa Clara University assistant law professor Brian Love said innovation should be sparked by "a competitor nipping at your heels" instead of courtroom battles.

"The best thing for society and for consumers is if all technology companies would take all the money they are spending on lawyers and experts," Love said, "and instead invest that money in research and design."

dawn.chmielewski@latimes.com

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

Times staff writer Andrea Chang contributed to this report.

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