I’ve studiously avoided getting into the patent debate that reached a crescendo recently with US courts granting Apple over $1 billion in damages against Samsung. I’m no lawyer, so the legal arguments should be best left to them, but as a consumer and avid smartphone user, I am ever grateful to Apple for seeding the current crop of brilliant devices I can choose from.
I remember clearly how pathetic “smartphones” were before theÂ iPhoneÂ came along, and am still astounded how a company like Apple, with no previous experience in the communications industry, turned it on its head with just one device.
Remember having to use a special stylus on screens before? The same one you would invariably lose rendering the phone close to useless? Remember when the late Steven Jobs theatrically showed man’s most versatile and handy writing implement, the index finger, as he demonstrated the first iPhone’s brilliant touch-sensitive screen with gesture controls?
The old saying that imitation is the greatest form of flattery appears to have fallen on deaf ears atÂ Apple. Even though it took the competition some time to come up with viable alternatives, they had no choice but to match what Apple was already “stealing” the market with. Google’s Android led the charge and early adopters in the device manufacturing space embraced it, withÂ SamsungÂ being the clear leader in style and functionality. Maybe that’s why Apple picked them out as the easiest target? Or was it more their overwhelming success in the market place?
There appears to have been quite a backlash to the court decision by the press and industry commentators, who are portraying Apple as arrogant, predatory, overly-aggressive and over-protective, even questioning patent laws and the court’s interpretation of them. They can bleat all they like, that’s what patent laws and courts upholding them are there for. It would make more sense to question the ability of the system, the qualifications of those determining patent applications and the laws themselves to keep up with the incredible advances that technology is making.
It is the system that is flawed, not those utilizing it or those flaunting it. The inane arguments that patent laws inhibit innovation are also unfounded as outlined above. Would there be more innovation if there was no protection of inventions? Would the market naturally allow for the innovators to make headway before others caught up? Would anybody be willing to invest in innovation knowing that somebody else would reap the benefits simply because they were bigger, better cashed up or able to produce things more cheaply? Hardly.
Regardless of how it got there, Samsung is being fettered in the short term and it may leave the way open for others to fill the gap. Presumably otherÂ Android devicesÂ will come under close scrutiny from retailers and operators that might be nervous about ongoing legal action.
Suddenly Microsoft’sÂ Windows Phone 8Â OS looks like a great option and one that is unique in its own right. Nokia would benefit from that because its handsets are looking pretty good now. Maybe even RIM will get some comforting support, if it ever releases its long-awaited BB10 OS and big-screen handsets.
The stock market seems to agree because RIM shares were up as much as 4% straight after the Apple patent judgment was announced, while Nokia jumped nearly 10%. Apple’s share price hasn’t doesn’t too badly either, and it is now the most valuable company of all time.
The fear-mongers are already implying that Apple will use its dominance to extract even more from the operator community. That seems unlikely, if Apple’s next iteration keeps up the tradition, operators will welcome it with open arms because it means they can leverage it to tie customers to another round of contracts. I can’t recall any mobile operators terminating reselling arrangements with Apple, but they certainly have promoted other brands as viable substitutes.
The biggest winner may end up being the Mozilla Firefox OS initiative being heralded by a number of big operators as their way of wresting back some control. It’s early days yet but the fallout from theÂ patent warsÂ may actually have the opposite effect that Apple may have intended.
First published in TelecomAsia, September 2012