Apple-Samsung Patent Verdict Now Empty Footnote In Global Smartphone Contest

by Greg Sterling

For a time it looked like Apple’s $1 billion patent infringement verdict against Samsung would would rock the smartphone world. However in the months since the landmark decision was handed down it has proven to be little more than a symbolic victory.

Courts and the US International Trade Commission have been loathe to ban the import of Android devices regardless of infringement findings. Apple is thus left with its damages and the dubious, symbolic argument that its claims were vindicated by the courts.

None of that means anything to the smartphone buying public. By duplicating the “trade dress” and functionality of the iPhone — though now exceeding it in some ways — Android (and Samsung in particular) has become dominant around the globe. This is exactly what happened in the ’90s to Apple with Microsoft and the “GUI” that Apple developed.

The $1 billion in damages doesn’t really help Apple — it’s meaningless in the context of Apple’s $137 billion cash pile. It also doesn’t hurt Samsung in any way, which last quarter announced $52 billion in revenue.

At a post-trial hearing yesterday US District Court Judge Lucy Koh left the $1 billion in damages intact (for the time being) and denied Samsung’s motion for a new trial. However she also denied several motions from Apple. Perhaps most significantly, she overruled the jury on the finding that Samsung had “willfully” infringed Apple’s patents.

The larger screen smartphones and “phablets” made by Samsung and other Android OEMs have proven extremely popular and put pressure on Apple to develop a much larger screen iPhone, which is reportedly coming in the release after next.

According to IDC Samsung shipped almost 64 million smartphones in Q4 2012, representing 29 percent of the mobile market. Apple sold roughly 48 million iPhones in the same period, for a 22 percent share of the market.

To the extent that patents exist, patent owners should have the ability to protect their “inventions” against naked infringement. But the public also has an interest in innovation and a competitive marketplace. How much imitation or duplication should the market and the legal system allow for competitive reasons?