The great Intellectual Property Conflict
Apple’s recent win against Samsung has been unanimously labelled as history in the making. And it is. But the question remains why? And is the judgement good or bad for the end consumer? And what does this mean for Android?
Before diving into the judgement a brief fact checking is in order. Android is an operating software made for smartphones. Google is the maker of Android and for all practical purposes responsible for it. Today Android is the most popular mobile OS. Actually Samsung recently became the world’s largest cell phone manufacturer thanks to, in no small part Android. So far so good.
But when Android was made, the then Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, said that Android was a rip-off from Apple’s iOS, and swore to do whatever it takes to stop it. But there was a problem with that idea. Android was- and still is-an open source project(i.e. anybody can download the OS and tweak it as they please). Meaning that legally speaking no one “owns” Android so Apple can’t sue anyone over it. What it can do, however, is sue companies for making devices that use Android and infringe upon Apple’s intellectual property. And that is how Samsung got mixed into a legal tussle with Apple. A tussle that’s been going on for over a year now. Android is ubiquitously used in Samsung smartphones, ranging from the Galaxy S3 to the Galaxy Y and in the many iterations of the Galaxy Tabs. The facts that Samsung is the largest smartphone manufacturer and that most of its products run Android means that Apple’s win in the US district courts is an indirect win against Android.
Apple claims that Samsung’s Galaxy S range of phones and the Galaxy 10.1 tablets “slavishly” copied the iPhone’s design and functionality and infringed on Apple’s signature patents (such as the bounce-back effect menus give when you reach the end of). This means that many features of the Galaxy line up are rip-offs of the iPhone. Apple contends that Samsung’s piracy cost them billions in lost sales. Apple further alleges that many consumers couldn’t differentiate between the two companies‘ devices and may have inadvertently bought a Galaxy tab or a Galaxy phone, when in fact they actually wanted to buy an iPad or iPhone. To be fair, Apple has become notorious for suing company after company. Deservedly or not, many consider this behavior uncompetitive.
Samsung says that it will appeal the court’s verdict, so the patent war isn’t over by a long shot. Samsung also says that the ruling gives an undue monopoly to Apple and reduces consumer choice that will lead to higher prices for the end user. Most likely, Samsung will now change the appearance of its Galaxy lineup to look less like the iDevices, which it did with the Galaxy Tab when the German courts had put a sales ban it. Existing users may get a software upgrade from Samsung that does away with the feature that infringes on Apple’s patents. Apple, is on the other hand trying to get a permanent sales ban on the Samsung phones that it feels infringes on Apple patents.
As far as the future of Android goes, while the win gives Apple fanboys and fangirls ammunition, its highly unlikely that future of Android is threatened. One of the major plus points of Android is hacking. Android is based on Linux kernels so it is meant to survive – in fact promote – the end user’s tinkering. Many consumers hack their phones to install custom features, even software upgrades that they want but companies don’t give them. The truth is that many global online communities exist solely for hacking Android phones. Two of the most popular ones, Cyanogenmod and MIUI, among which MIUI boasts bringing all the form and functions of iOS to just about any Android device. And they are beyond of the reach of Apple or its lawsuits.
While the court’s judgement and impartiality are beyond question, one would be remiss not to mention that any lay person can, in fact, differentiate between an iDevice and a Galaxy device. After all the companies‘ brand name and icons are as obvious as day on the body of the products. Another objection duly raised by Steve Dent from Endgadget is that some of patents granted are for features too small, meaningless to even qualify as “inventions.” The patents granted are too loosely defined. Lastly, its not as if everything Apple’s ever made has been original. The iOS 5’s update which brought a notification centre, widgets- in- notification- drawer and other goodies were too obviously inspired by Android (to paraphrase Steve Jobs, they were stolen from Android, but since Android is open-source, no one can sue Apple over it). The truth is that Android and Apple have competed and that has improved each other in remarkably short periods of time. So to quote Samsung Apple’s win should be counted “as a loss for the American consumer.”
(The writer is a student of Economics (Hons) in Delhi University and a keen watcher of the tech world)