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What the Apple-Samsung ruling means for you

An Apple iPhone 4 and a Samsung phone. A California jury has reached a decision in the nearly month-long trial between the two tech giants over patent infringement.

Samsung's devices will have to start looking and acting differently. That's after jurors handed Apple a billion dollar win over Samsung on Friday, in a game-changing patent lawsuit. And it got us wondering whether we'd see the real-life introduction of the Pyramid tablet, from the TV show The Office.

Dwight: This week we are rolling out the brand new Sabre tablet, the Pyramid.

Phyllis: Ooh. why is it shaped like that?

Turns out, we probably won't get a pyramid or circular or octagonal tablet any time soon.

Mark Lemley is a professor at Stanford Law School.

Mark Lemley: The one patent that the jury rejected in what was otherwise a sweeping win for Apple was the simplest and I think the most problematic one and that was the shape of the rectangle for the tablet with rounded corners. Now, the jury didn't say that patent was invalid, they didn't invalidate any of the patents, but they did say that Samsung didn't infringe it. I think that's a way of avoiding a problematic ruling that said nobody could use rectangles for their tablets.

But, other changes are coming. Companies can patent design.

Lemley: If you came up with something that looks different than anybody had done before, classic example is the traditional shape of the glass Coca-Cola bottle, you could have a patent on that not because it was inventive, but because it was new and different ornamentation and we wanted you to be able to prevent other people from imitating it.

In this case, Samsung will need to change how its devices look.

Lemley: There are several design patents that have to do with the way the phone and the tablet are set up - the structure of the single, central button and the shape of the microphone and things like that in the context of the overall shape of the phone.

They'll also be changes to how the devices work, which will will affect even the apps you can use.

Lemley: There's an entire applications ecosystem out there that's written hundreds of thousands of programs on the assumption that these features are built into the operating system of the smartphone. So, anybody who's software allows you to pinch to expand or contract or bounce back on the screen on a list or tap to center, Samsung now has to worry not just about its own operating system, but whether the apps that it's already sold are going to be compatible with the redesign system.

The judge still has yet to say what the decision will mean to current Samsung users and for the devices already on the shelf.

But professor Colleen Chien, from Santa Clara Law school, says the ruling will have a big effect for the tech industry and Intellectual Property or IP.

Colleen Chien: The philosophy in tech has been for many years innovate first, sort out the IP later, and this case says that you can't really do that in all cases, because you really might get in trouble on the back end.

Patent lawyers have their hands full with dozens of battles over smartphones and tablets. Chien says it's easy to understand why.

Chien: Well, you know if you talk to a bank robber and you ask them why are you robbing a bank, they'll answer well, that's where the money is.

And the legal battles are likely to continue as the market grows.

Chien: There's an estimate out there that a single smartphone is covered by 250,000 patents, as compared to pharmaceutical product, like a drug, which may have five or 10 key patents on it. With that many patents out there, a lot of people are going to have claims over the smartphone and how it works.

Chein thinks the number of patents is going to keep expanding right along with the smartphone and tablet market.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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Let's wait for the appeal. A decision by a local jury near where Apple is, may or may not hold up.

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