Move over NYC, there’s a new “Big Apple” in town
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 11:09
When some people hear the “Big Apple”, they think of New York City. But me? I think of Apple Inc., formerly known as Apple Computing, Inc.
Apple Inc. (Apple) is the most valuable company in the World, currently worth over $650 billion, with experts believing that Apple will become the first company to ever reach a net worth of one trillion dollars. That’s one big apple.
Apple decided to drop “Computing” from its name in early 2007, indicating that the firm’s focus had shifted away from personal computers and into consumer electronics. Since then, the company known for its high-tech products and sleek designs hasn’t looked back.
Another thing you should know about Apple is that they like to protect these products and designs, as evidenced by the recent and still ongoing trial with Samsung Electronics, Co (Samsung).
On Aug. 24, after a lengthy and complex trial, the jury came to a decision, stating that Samsung owed Apple $1.049 billion in damages for violating patents and copying intellectual property (IP) owned by Apple.
Apple is now trying to have an injunction placed on the sale of various Samsung Smartphone products in the US, which would limit Samsung’s ability to sell its products there.
Specifically, Samsung was found guilty of copying various software patents owned by Apple and for copying the overall physical design of the iPhone for their own Galaxy Smartphone series.
And if you compare an iPhone to a Galaxy phone side-by-side, you simply can’t deny that Samsung, indeed, copied Apple. From the round-cornered rectangular design of the phones, to icon design, to home page design, it’s clear that Apple’s ideas were stolen.
But this begs the question – who truly owns an idea or what constitutes an idea?
Is it a patent? Well, technically no because ideas cannot be patented. The implementation of an idea is what’s patentable (i.e. you can’t patent your idea for a new engine that runs on salt water, but if you create a working prototype, then yes). This is what we call innovation.
Innovation is essentially the process of bringing new products or services to market or improving upon existing products and services in new ways.
It is hard to say whether the outcome of this trial will dampen or bolster technological innovation.
On one hand, a case as important to patent law as this could encourage innovation. It shows that original ideas can be protected and are worth investing capital into. On the other hand, when do patents go too far?
If Apple can patent “bounce back” scrolling (for iPhone users, you know when you drag your finger on the home page of your iPhone and it bounces back into place? Apple has patented this functionality), multi-touch gesture recognition and tap-to-zoom, what does that leave for other touch-screen based Smartphone developers?
To me, these sound like basic touch-screen functions, not something you can claim as your own, even if you’re the first one to do it. What’s to stop people from patenting various other touch-screen functions like basic clicking or tapping? These fundamental touch-screen gestures should serve as common ground — if anything — to avoid confusion amongst consumers, but also to protect the founding principles of patent law – namely to promote the progress of technology, science and innovation.
It seems as though Smartphone developers are using patents not to protect their IP, but to handicap their competition by disallowing them basic functionality in their devices. Apple doesn’t “own” the touch screen, so why should they be allowed to limit what its competition can do with the technology? It would be like BMW telling Mercedes-Benz they’ve patented the “two and ten” steering wheel hand position – they don’t “own” the automobile, but they won’t allow people in non-BMWs the basic operation of their vehicle.
For those who might argue the fact that companies can license their patents so other companies can use them, realistically, why would Apple want to share its knowledge with a company like Samsung – one of its biggest competitors in the Smartphone and tablet industry.
With the injunction hearing scheduled for December of this year, we will see if Apple can show Samsung and the rest of the consumer electronics industry that imitation is, in fact, not the highest form of flattery.