Columnists

Apple says 'iWin' to Samsung's 'iSteal'

Khaya Dlanga

You'd have to be an idiot not to see that Samsung stole from Apple. But the fallout is fun to watch, writes Khaya Dlanga.

Apple's victory over Samsung in the latest round of patent battles bodes well for innovation across the board. (AFP)

Samsung changed after Apple released the iPhone. A clever move, but the problem is that Samsung did not change to become better to out-innovate Apple; it changed to look like and seem like Apple.

While Apple was innovating, Samsung was looking over Apple's shoulder to see what they were doing and then doing that – sometimes better, sometimes worse. It was shameless. Like I twittered the day the verdict was announced, "Samsung is that kid who would copy the smart kid's answers who sat next to him." And my good friend @LwaziWali wittily responded, "And still not pass the exam." 

She was right, because the teacher saw that something untoward had happened and punished the copying kid with a billion-dollar fine. 

The jury made its point and said that these are some of the things that Samsung copied the following from Apple amongst others:

  • Utility Patent 163: Enlarging documents by tapping on the screen. Apple owns that patent and the jury said that Samsung violated this functionality with 12 of its phones.
  • Utility Patent 381: The "bounce-back" feature.
  • Utility Patent 915: Distinguishes between single-touch and multi-touch gestures. i.e, "pinch to zoom". The iPhone knows when you are using one finger or two fingers. Again, Samsung violated this Apple patent with 21 phone models.

Samsung is appealing the verdict. The bad news is that if they lose, they could be fined three times what the jury fined them. It's a high-risk manoeuvre but a necessary one for them clear themselves from being called copycats. 

Some may say that Apple is being petty. There is nothing petty about someone stealing your ideas and then making billions out of that – it means they are taking away market share from you. That. Is. Not. Petty. 

Did Samsung wilfully use Apple's intellectually property without permission? The jury thought so, and told Samsung to pay Apple more than a billion dollars. But that was nothing compared to the 7% loss of stock market value that the South Korean company suffered at the hands of investors. 

Some are saying that Samsung is merely making products cheaper and therefore technology more accessible to the common man. Nonsense. Samsung is not interested in making technology accessible to the common man, it is interested in selling more phones to the common man so that it can make profits. Samsung is not an NGO. And neither is Apple. 

This has been the OJ Simpson trial of corporate trials. The amount of media attention involved is usually reserved for the sort of cases involving celebrities. The press reported every single aspect of the trial. And people were interested on who was going to come out on top.  

When it comes to this case, either you are for Apple or against Apple, not because you are for Samsung. People love Apple. Some hate it. And others are simply contrarian. They will dislike something just because everyone else does. Now, if these people are honest, they will speak the truth.

They don't choose Samsung products because they believe that they are superior, but because they are not Apple products. The reason the trial generated so much interest is because Apple enhanced user experience – Samsung on the other hand has made ordinary consumer feel like they are holding an Apple device – at a lower cost. 

While this is bad for Samsung in the short term, it will be good for them in the long run. Instead of first waiting to see what Apple does, they will now be forced to innovate. In order to beat Apple, Samsung must stop copying and rather out-innovate Apple. That can only good for Samsung and better for the consumer. 

As @theowinter said to me on Twitter, "Patents don't inhibit innovation, just competition. Deemed a necessary cost to reward innovation." 

The animosity between these two companies tells us that World War III won't be fought by countries, it will most certainly be fought by corporations trying to protect their turf. 

At its current market cap of $637-billion, Apple is the world's 19th largest economy – just ahead of Switzerland – while Samsung lost $12-billion in value after the verdict was announced, that's 7% of the company's market cap and will likely continue to bleed as Apple seeks a sales ban on eight Samsung products in the United States. 

Many analysts expect Apple's share price to continue climbing to become the world's first trillion-dollar company. That could make it bigger than Samsung's parent country. 

It's all far from over, of course, with Google now reportedly suing Apple over alleged patent infringements. This might end up biting Apple. And we might have a case of competition by litigation. But this is fun to watch. 

Hopefully this will not distract Apple from making great products. It must focus on that and let the lawyers focus on the law. 


Topics In This Section

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus