Apple And Samsung Gear Up For An Ugly Legal Confrontation

In what can change the future of computing and patenting as we know it, Apple have amended their initial lawsuit against Samsung to accuse them of “slavishly copying” Apple’s designs. Apple described Samsung’s flagrant replication of its designs as “copied” replacing the earlier “misappropriated”.

The lawsuit also adds Droid Charge, Galaxy Ace, Galaxy Prevail, Galaxy S (i9000), Gravity, Infuse 4G, Nexus S 4G, Replenish, Sidekick, Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy S II to the list of devices Apple deems border on being copycats of Apple devices.

Apple seeks to ban U.S. imports of Samsung’s smartphones and tabs, through the U.S. International Trade Commission. The preliminary mandate will be on September 8, 2011.

The Counter Claim

Samsung filed a lawsuit in South Korea against Apple citing five patent infringements. Samsung also filed a suit in a court in Tokyo, Japan citing two patent infringements, and in Mannheim, Germany citing three patent infringements. Besides suing Apple in three countries on two continents, Samsung then went the whole hog by countersuing Apple in the Northern District of California against Apple’s infringement of 10 patents.

Do Smartphone patents even mean anything?

In reality, every smart phone has numerous technological features which developers can claim as their own infringed patent. This has now resulted in Tech giants buying out entire companies just to acquire patents which they hold. For instance, Google is trying to buy Nortel’s entire patent portfolio for $900 million.

So what’s all the Fuss about?

Apple believes Samsung has violated “trade dress law”, or the identifying features of a product that consumers immediately recognize. Apple is going the extra mile with claims like Samsung has copied “the front surface of the product dominated by a screen surface with black borders.”  It seems too generic to sue over, but Apple want their pound of flesh, and they could show that Samsung deliberately copied the iPhone’s design.

Is Apple running scared of Samsung’s Emergence?

Of course it is! Samsung has the only real tablet competitor to the iPad, their Galaxy Tab. They have seen sales grow across the world, and this threat is real and present. Samsung’s Android devices are also not as restrictive as Apple’s in terms of App usage, and Apple faces the very possible threat of losing valuable market share.

The lawsuit could also be a clever guise to shield its upcoming iPhone 5 from the infinitely better Samsung Galaxy S2 and Infuse 4G. The current delay is read as Apple trying to catch up with the superior Android phones. Until Apple launches its iPhone 5, the only way it can stop customers switching is an injunction to block Samsung’s sales.

How Bad is it for Samsung?

Apple is Samsung’s key buyers of semiconductors and display panels. Apple relies on Samsung to provide it with the parts it needs for its devices, and Samsung makes huge profits selling them to the biggest tech company on the planet.

Who will come out on top?

All fingers point to a ruling in favour of Apple. The company gets even better publicity and establishes its business as one dangerous to imitate. Rivals will avoid designs that are the spitting image of iOS devices, which helps Apple in brand differentiation in the future.

Samsung does have a lot to lose, and we expect them to keep supplying Apple with chips despite this lawsuit. But if the hearings take a turn for the worse, there might be a massive industry-wide shake up among component suppliers over the next ten years.

What are your views on patenting a Generic Design? Will Apple get away with this? Let us know!

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