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Can the EU End the Apple-Samsung Patent War?

{complink 379|Apple Inc.} and {complink 4751|Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.}, have been acting recently as if they were the first technology enterprises to engage in a patent war. The two companies, according to reports, are engaged in more than 30 lawsuits in 10 countries worldwide — but so far neither has delivered a knockout blow, and the tussle could go on for years more unless sane heads prevail at the companies.

It's obvious to most observers that neither company can right now take the other out of the smartphone and tablet PC markets. Apple is the dominant player in the tablet market and is well entrenched in its corner of the smartphone ring, while Samsung's wide range of Android OS and Windows-OS phones has catapulted the company to the top of that sector. Even though its tablet hasn't had the same success as the iPad, Samsung is one of the few companies that most likely will survive the eventual winnowing in that market segment.

So, this is what I suggest to Apple and Samsung: Get together, hash out the details of a mutually beneficial cross-licensing agreement and go back to the design table.

The European Commission seems to agree. It recently waded into the conflict, concerned Apple and Samsung may be throttling consumer choices in violation of EU regulations. Under a practice accepted worldwide — known as Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) — companies are typically allowed to use general patents held or claimed by competitors under reasonable licensing terms. Such agreements should not impose an onerous burden on rivals. The EU is now conducting a probe into the two companies' patent claims.

The reality facing the industry is that the technologies used in wireless devices are extensive: The patents governing them run literally into the thousands, and most of these cannot be claimed any longer by a single company. Companies like Nokia and Motorola Mobility (and now Google, with its purchase of Motorola Mobility) hold many of these, and over the years they and other rivals have found ways to share the fundamental technologies in a way that fairly compensates innovators but still makes critical patents available to competitors.

It seems to me both Apple and Samsung aim to use the patents they either own or have filed for to exclude other players from the market. That's a fair position if the technologies behind the patents represent significant breakthroughs. For most of these, though, that is not the case. Some of Apple's patents cover the shape of its iPad, which in my opinion is absurd, considering there isn't anything noteworthy about the size or format of the iPad — it's a rectangle . What makes the iPad distinct and such a huge success isn't its shape but the operating system and the ecosystem it supports.

A similar argument could be made about the “swipe-to-unlock” fixture on the iPhone. It is certainly different and quite clearly imaginative. But revolutionary? No. Apple has a patent for the concept and should enforce it — or license the idea to competitors for a reasonable royalty rate — but it shouldn't be used to exclude other players from the market. We have too many silly patent wars going on in the technology business for courts to continue agreeing with companies that their rights over such innovations should be upheld at a hefty cost to rivals. By the same token, rivals need to engage with patent holders early before using their innovation.

The EU is right to be concerned. Both Apple and Samsung may be crossing a threshold long respected by technology companies.

35 comments on “Can the EU End the Apple-Samsung Patent War?

  1. Himanshugupta
    November 21, 2011

    What Apple is trying to do is to monopolize the market for its product. This week Apple started pre-launch booking of iPhone4S starting 45,000 Indian rupee (equivalent $1000) for 16GB which is a ripoff. But popularity is paying off. Samsung is providing almost the same technology for much cheaper. So, the obvious target.

    I agree with Bolaji that some patents for which Apple is fighting for are cool ideas but not revolutionary. Hopefully Apple lift up its standard for patent fights. Apple does not have the legacy of collaborating and sharing so i do not think that they understand these terms.

  2. bolaji ojo
    November 21, 2011

    @Himanshugupta, I guess it's normal for a company to want to dominate its market segment but anti-monopolistic practices are illegal. Apple is only protecting its turf and employing strategies that may succeed but if it is successful in any way this won't last. Outstanding innovatiion is the way forward, not incremental improvement that doesn't remarkably change the product.

  3. Nemos
    November 21, 2011

    You set it very well I highlight it also “Some of Apple's patents cover the shape of its iPad, which in my opinion is absurd, considering there isn't anything noteworthy about the size or format of the iPad — it's a rectangle. What makes the iPad distinct and such a huge success isn't its shape but the operating system and the ecosystem it supports”

    They must stop fighting on the courts, and as you suggested must return to their Lads. If they want to dominate to the market, there is only one way, and this way doesn't go through the courts but goes into their labs. Technology is running and if they get stuck into the patent war maybe they will lose the train both of them.

  4. DataCrunch
    November 21, 2011

    By the time the patent battle is over and done with, the whole thing will not be relevant anymore.  Both of these companies can drag this out for years and in the end it won’t matter anymore.

  5. _hm
    November 21, 2011

    Will lawyers and legal system like that environment? Perhaps not. This is the way industry will work. EU has to give quick decision as per the law.

     

  6. Wale Bakare
    November 21, 2011

    Bolaji,

    Outstanding innovatiion is the way forward, not incremental improvement that doesn't remarkably change the product.

    One thing technological companies have traditionalised themselves with – incremental improvement. What areas of human activities you might think any new innovations would handle perfectly? Healthcare?

  7. Anna Young
    November 21, 2011

    “The reality facing the industry is that the technologies used in wireless devices are extensive: The patents governing them run literally into the thousands, and most of these cannot be claimed any longer by a single company”

    The amazing thing is that the likes of Motorola Mobility and Nokia have found ways to share and fairly compensate innovators and still makes critical patent available to competitors. Why can't Apple and Samsung do likewise? 

    As quoted above, after all the patents law governing these technologies cannot allow one single company to lay claim to its patents due to the complexity of the law. May be with the intervention of EU, this may clarify the patents law.

  8. bolaji ojo
    November 21, 2011

    @Dave, That's typically the way things like this always works out. By the time the battle debris has been cleared, the industry technology would have moved in a different direction. Apple clobbered everyone long before it started enforcing patents and its continued dominance rests on anything but trying to be a gatekeeper.

  9. bolaji ojo
    November 21, 2011

    @Wale, A lot is already happening in high-tech to integrate healthcare and technology. Many pacemaker recipients get monitored via remote  applications nowadays and the days are now here when dialysis patients can do their procedure at home rather than in an hospital setting. The companies that can bring innovation to the tech world and turn medical products into consumer electronics will win the next race. So far, most companies have focused on entertainment and information but utilitarian services will be the next focus of winning companies.

  10. Wale Bakare
    November 22, 2011

    The amazing thing is that the likes of Motorola Mobility and Nokia have found ways to share and fairly compensate innovators and still makes critical patent available to competitors. Why can't Apple and Samsung do likewise?

    @Anna, that is exactly the issue they have to wholeheartdly address, not patent infrigment court fights. Individual with excellent ideas need acquired and compensated that will keep the ball rolling in the industry. I think, i cant but give kudos to Google as well in this regard. It has been fairly OK with its acquisitions policy. 


  11. jbond
    November 22, 2011

    This worthless battle that Apple and Samsung have going on reminds me of two dogs marking a fire hydrant. The hydrant (technology) isn't going anywhere, yet every day one dog comes over to mark it and say it's his. Later the other dog comes back and says no, it's mine. If they both could just use the technology to their benefit and focus on innovation, both companies would benefit nicely.

  12. Anna Young
    November 22, 2011

    @jbond, Quite interesting analogy about the fire hydrant and the dogs. I love it. To take it one step further, dogs just love to mark their territories and perhaps companies too understand the significance of this. Like in the animal world, though, a bigger animal may come around one day and chase the two rivals out of the territory and claim it for itself.

    This process takes time but it eventually arrives doesn't it? Just look at Apple, Samsung and Google? They were underdogs in the smartphone market only a few years ago but now they are the top dogs. We should be on the lookout for the next potential leader.

  13. bolaji ojo
    November 22, 2011

    I believe the Apple-Samsung patent war will be settled next year. It's not in either company's interest to keep this up and the cost of prosecuting the court cases in addition to the negative press will force their hands.

  14. Anna Young
    November 22, 2011

    Bolaji, Somebody has to step in and stop the bickering. It's ugly and takes away from the more important goal of designing newer products. So far, regional regulators in the US and Asia have been on the sideline and if the EU can sort out the mess that would be in the best interest of everyone.

  15. FLYINGSCOT
    November 23, 2011

    I am looking forward to the day when frivolous patents are no longer awarded.  I believe a patent should reward exceptional creativity and innovation and not simply be a stick waved by those with the deepest pockets to keep others down.

  16. JADEN
    November 23, 2011

    The Intelectual Property rights is actually hindering innovation, I think that is the cause of several patent lawsuits in the technology industry because the Intelectual Property system is rooted in belief that innovations comes out of thin air and massive R&D spending, but this is not the case.  And if everytime you invent something, you get a patent to block anybody else to improve upon your idea, then we wouldn't have innovation at all.  As a matter of fact, iphone would not exist.

  17. SunitaT
    November 24, 2011

    And if everytime you invent something, you get a patent to block anybody else to improve upon your idea, then we wouldn't have innovation at all.

    @Jaden, I agree with your opinion. Its really sad that patents act as deterrant to innovation. I strongly feel that we should reduce the “Term of patent” so that we can innovate on the exisiting ideas. We need strong reforms to our existing patent system.

  18. Kunmi
    November 24, 2011

    I disagree with this opinion of reducing the patent term. Looking at the angle of drug development: It will take a particular drug 10-12 years to reach the market and at the end of the day, the patent term will remain average of 5 years to make money on the 12 years investments. If this particular drug has any problem of recall within the remaining five years, the investors are in the doom of loosing multi-millions of dollars. Patent term may be good for certain products but it is a serious challenge in the Pharmaceutical world.

  19. Kunmi
    November 24, 2011

    We're all talking about innovations but it is surprising that many of these companies spy each other in many ways. They all know that it is very costly to develop an innovation from the scratch, so they wait until a company's patent is over before they start producing a similar product. It is good in one way because it crashes price and give room for more end users to buy such a product.

    On the other hand, I do not think that Patent term can be regarded as blocking innovations as said by one of the contributors but rather blocking the copy cats.

  20. Damilare
    November 25, 2011

    I think it is too simplistic to simply conclude that intellectual property laws inhibit innovation, however there may be some truth in it. 

    I think the laws governing intecllectual property in the technology industry can benefit a bit from looking at the academia. Where ideas are constantly been revised and improved upon by other scholars. You only need to acknowledge the original owner of the idea. This has led to faster discoveries because you do not need to start from the scratch.

    Although, it would not be as simple when big corporations and their millions are involved but the laws could guided by this general principle making it easier for innovations to be improved upon.

  21. Taimoor Zubar
    November 25, 2011

    I think patents definitely have the advantage that they protect protect companies from imitation and encourage innovation and new development. However, there comes a time when a situation like this arises and patents are used merely to fight with other brands rather than creating any innovation. This is where the authorities should intervene and ensure patents are not misused.

  22. Damilare
    November 25, 2011

    Yes I think you are absolutely right, but as with all corporate giants the aim is to win at all cost including using methods like trying to buy off the said authorities. 

    Also, it is difficult sometimes to know where to draw the lines in matters as delicate and complicated as this.

  23. Ashu001
    November 26, 2011

    Bolaji,

    The current Apple-Samsung patent reminds me of two kids fighting over a piece of candy.Its time for Big Momma(aka the regulators)
    to step in and prevent  technological development from coming to a complete halt in this space.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  24. Ashu001
    November 26, 2011

    Flying scot,

    A Novel vision.Only problem is that the No.1 entity that benefits from issuing patents-The Govt. would'nt quite be happy with this development. Also can u imagine how the most useless profession on earth(Lawyers) react to such a development???They would not just be out of Jobs but be left with No Hope and be forced to do honest,hard work. Will be fun to watch.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  25. t.alex
    November 26, 2011

    Apple is indirectly trying to fight against Android which is eating up the market share at a steady rate. Nevermind then, next year will be a good year for lawyers.

  26. Anna Young
    November 27, 2011

    @Wale, You're right. However, Apple and Samsung failed in that area. They have opted for a court battle. I just hope EU might be able to clarify the patent law

  27. Anna Young
    November 27, 2011

    @Kunmi, you're correct in saying that patent terms should not be seen to halt innovations. I think the purpose is to protect the interest of the innovator. As we all know, the patent law as it stands is cumbersome and  subject to various legal interpretations. This is why I think urgent clarifications of the law is required. Hopefully EU might just be able to provide this.

  28. bolaji ojo
    November 27, 2011

    I was in a Best Buy store over the weekend and the range of products available was amazing, most of which compete against Apple devices. I was frightened for Apple. The company is being sandwiched by a bunch of companies angling for its market share and I believe they are slowly winning over consumers.

  29. mfbertozzi
    November 27, 2011

    I was keeping an eye on major titles from newspapers and today, once again, strongest focus is on financial crisis and how EU could make steps forward for winning this battle (crisis in economy) in which the enemy is still not clear. I am wondering what could be real interest of people in a topic so important as patent war, considering that they are trying to cut any costs in their personal life and while tech devices are needed, alternatives players from Far East are promoting in EU products very cheap and absolutely in line with current spending standard.

  30. Damilare
    November 27, 2011

    I agree with you, one would almost be sorry for apple sseing all these other companies trying to corner Apple's market but from a consumer's point of view it might be a good thing getting quality for cheaper prices. 

    Apple's woe brings to mind the saying that you cannot patent an idea only its execution and a single idea can be executed in many ways….

  31. Ms. Daisy
    November 27, 2011

    @ Bolaji, I also believe these companies that are trying to inch into Apple's market share are also aided by the slow ecomony that is humbling consumers to accept cheaper products that they would not normally have given a choice. Affordability is therefore driving the consumers more that the reliability Apple and other big corporations are known for.

  32. Barbara Jorgensen
    November 28, 2011

    There's a difference between defending your IP and using a patent as an offensive strike at your competition. It's too bad that patents have moved so far away from their original intent.

  33. itguyphil
    November 28, 2011

    AMybe we shouold start an Occupy Patent Court movement to put an end to this madness…

  34. SunitaT
    November 30, 2011

    I also believe these companies that are trying to inch into Apple's market share are also aided by the slow ecomony that is humbling consumers to accept cheaper products that they would not normally have given a choice.

    @Daisy, Although I agree with your point that “slow economy is  aiding companies that are trying to compete with Apple “.I would say recession has thought people to spend wisely and it really make sense to buy 200$ tablet rather than invest 500$+ on iPAD. I think Apple should reduce its products prices to stay in the competition.

  35. SunitaT
    November 30, 2011

    I think patents definitely have the advantage that they protect protect companies from imitation and encourage innovation and new development.

    @TaimoorZ, in the same way patents also discourages other companies from using the technology and thus encouraging monopoly. I think we should reduce the patent term so that we can balance between innovation and IP protection.

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