Samsung and Apple Put an End to Their Smartphone Patent Battle

July 2, 2018 - 4 minutes read

For almost a decade now, Apple and Samsung have been the two smartphone companies with the largest share of American customers. During a majority of that time (about seven years), the two companies have been embroiled in a lawsuit over smartphone design and patents.

Although the two companies reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, last week, they decided to settle the case for an undisclosed amount.

Was It Worth It?

In May earlier this year, a jury ordered Samsung to pay a total of $539 million to Apple for patent infringement. Initially, the lawsuit was about removing Samsung’s market share completely by eliminating them as a smartphone manufacturer. But since that time, both manufacturers have advanced their software greatly. It’s been next-to-impossible to compare this outdated software, and Apple moved on to targeting Samsung’s revenues instead. There was a time when Apple demanded $2 billion in retribution, while Samsung argued that it only owed Apple $28 million.

“If I had to characterize it, it didn’t really accomplish anything,” says Brian Love, who is a law professor at Santa Clara University, located near Apple’s headquarters in the greater San Francisco area. “Close to a decade of litigation, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on lawyers, and at the end of the day, no products went off the market.”

Love says that although Apple won on paper with a trivial profit, the mobile development company didn’t gain any better control over Samsung’s market share. “Apple can find better ways of earning hundreds of millions of dollars than fighting a decade-long lawsuit,” Love points out.

Innovation or Litigation

Michael Carrier is a professor at Rutgers Law School. His main interest is patent law, so he’s been closely following this case for the better part of nearly a decade. He hopes that other tech companies see this lawsuit as a time to learn a lesson that “the courtroom is not always the place to try to get ahead. There’s always the trade-off between litigation and innovation, and in the time these companies spent in the courtroom, they weren’t innovating.”

Carrier says that even if a tech company infringes on some patents, the court may not care, especially if the patented technology only makes up a small part of the overall technology.

Apple released a statement about the ruling: “Apple ignited the smartphone revolution with iPhone, and it is a fact that Samsung blatantly copied our design. It is important that we continue to protect the hard work and innovation of so many people at Apple.”

The Real Winner?

If Apple got its way and removed Samsung from the smartphone race, who could compete against the tech giant? it’s been speculated that Apple’s victory could have brought it one step closer to creating a mobile phone monopoly since consumers would have no equatable options in the market.

In this case, it’s probably better for consumers that Samsung survived. Competition spurs innovation; without this, companies, tech or otherwise, tend to rest on their laurels. But this is far from the only lengthy litigation that big tech companies are currently embroiled in.

At this point, it’s basically become par for the course. Which is unfortunate, because so has the outcome that nobody wins.

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