The implications of Apple v. Samsung

A Samsung phone (up) and an iPhone 4. Apple says Samsung stole a number of design and functionality features from the iPhone.

Jeff Horwich: After years of legal skirmishes around the world, the smartphone battle royale finally comes home today to Silicon Valley. Jury selection starts in the patent trial of the number one and two smartphone makers: Samsung and Apple, respectively.

Florian Mueller is a technology consultant who blogs about patent law and the tech sector. Welcome to Marketplace.

Florian Mueller: Thanks for having me here.

Horwich: Break it down for us -- what does Apple say Samsung has stolen from them?

Mueller: Apple's narrative is that Samsung has copied or, if you will, stolen pretty much everything from packaging design to exterior product design to user interface features and deep-down operating system functionality. Samsung has retaliated, claiming that Apple could never have built a phone without actually infringing on some of Samsung's intellectual property related to wireless communications.

Horwich: And this boils down to what -- with the rounded corners and the way that the screen looks -- all of it together suggests, Apple says, something fishy.

Mueller: Yes. There is usually a misconception among people watching these cases because there's always a lot of talk about individual elements such as rounded corners or shiny surface or angular shape. And actually, a company can only protect a unique and new combination of multiple characteristics.

Horwich: What happens if Apple wins?

Mueller: If Apple won all the way, no worries about Samsung. They would have to make a number of design and technical changes to a variety of products; they would have to fork over potentially a few billion dollars to Apple, but Samsung is going to survive. However, Apple has many more lawsuits going against Samsung, and vice-versa. So it could yield a breakthrough for Apple that would have implications for a number of other losses.

Horwich: What happens if Samsung wins?

Mueller: Well that actually would be much more of a doomsday scenario because what Samsung asks for is for the court to bar Apple from implementing the third generation cellular telephony standards called UMTS, and in that case, an iPhone would no longer be a phone, and an iPad would no longer be able to dial. However, it's very unlikely to happen because there are considerations on the antitrust law that makes this only a theoretical possibility and not a likely outcome.

Horwich: Florian Mueller blogs about patent law and tech sector at fosspatents.com. Florian, thanks a lot.

Mueller: Thank you, Jeff.

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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