Andy Ihnatko’s reaction to the Apple-Samsung lawsuit struck a nerve:
The biggest losers here are consumers. If the verdict stands, then the costs of the judgment will be reflected in the cost of mobile devices. Furthermore, other manufacturers will feel the need to buy Apple’s official permission to build useful phones, passing down the possible $20-per-handset fee.
I disagree that “useful” phones need to be so close to the iPhone that they run into Apple’s patents and trade-dress claims in the Samsung case.
I also don’t buy the “we’ll have to pass the costs along” argument. Businesses always say that to scare people, usually government regulators via their voters, into maintaining the status quo and avoiding additional regulatory, safety, or environmental costs that are usually better for consumers.
Smartphone and “tablet” manufacturers will keep doing what they always do: sell us their products at the highest prices they can possibly charge for them to maximize total revenue.
Maybe we’ll pay this theoretical “extra $20” in patent-license fees for our smartphone up front, a surcharge less than any carrier in the U.S. will charge to “activate” it, because it’s a drop in the bucket relative to the $2,000-over-two-years contract. In that case, this discussion is moot.
Or that extra $20 is significant, we won’t pay it, and the manufacturers will find a way to save $20 somewhere else to remain competitive and continue selling us their products that are so close to the iPhone that they run into these patents.
And it’s possible that the next great phone, the one that shames the iPhone the same way that the iPhone buried the Blackberry, will never make it to market. Designing and selling an advanced smartphone just became a dangerous business.
Apple’s claims from this case aren’t very far-reaching. What they won, effectively, is a weapon to use against anyone who copies a narrow set of behaviors, appearances, and packaging designs.
If Samsung wasn’t so blatantly idiotic about copying so much from the iPhone, Apple wouldn’t have won so many of their claims. In fact, Apple lost most of their more generic, less-blatantly-copied iPad claims.
Google has already sidestepped most of Apple’s interface-behavior patents with the newest versions of Android, which might eventually be used by more than a handful of customers. And Android is much more of an
iPhone-ripoff “iOS-inspired platform” than Windows 8, which has avoided almost all relevant Apple patents.
What’s really going to disrupt the iPhone is going to be something completely different, not something that tries so hard to clone the iPhone that it hits Apple’s patents.
Unoriginal manufacturers will need to pay for their unoriginality. The most reasonable course of action, therefore, is to truly innovate and design products that aren’t such close copies.
I fail to see how consumers lose.