Apple patent victory puts Asia's Android device makers on notice
US patent victory over Samsung sends message to Asian mobile makers using similar designs
Technology giant Apple has scored a huge US court victory over Samsung Electronics in their acrimonious patent dispute, which could prompt a scramble by other mobile device makers in Asia for a sweeping redesign of their products.
A nine-member jury in a San Jose, California court has awarded Apple US$1.05 billion in damages after finding that Samsung infringed six of seven design and utility patents that were in litigation, while dismissing the Korean company's counterclaims of certain violations of its wireless patents.
Friday's verdict indirectly serves as Apple's first major legal broadside against Google, which developed the free Android operating system primarily used by Samsung and other Asian manufacturers of smartphones and media tablets.
In mainland China, which will become the world's largest market for smartphones with sales of 160 million units by the end of this year, Apple's iPhone was the seventh-leading brand behind lower-cost smartphones in the first half. The market's top brands are from Android device makers led by Samsung and Chinese brands Lenovo, Huawei Technologies and ZTE.
The patent victory in the United States, however, gives Apple a legal precedent that its battalion of lawyers could use against other competitors caught infringing on the same set of intellectual property that Samsung was deemed to have copied.
Apple and Samsung are involved in more than 50 lawsuits in 10 countries, including the US, Australia and Germany.
Stan Abrams, a Beijing-based intellectual property lawyer and professor, said the verdict "certainly calls into question the strategy of Chinese companies that have built Android devices 'inspired' by the iPhone".
But Abrams said these manufacturers will "ultimately innovate their way out from under this patent victory by Apple".
"A combination of licensing deals with Apple and new product design will probably minimise what appears from our vantage point today to be a huge smackdown [against Android device makers]," he said. "This is a blindingly fast industry, and Android is built for flexibility."
On the US verdict's potential impact on Chinese consumers, Abrams said "patents are territorial". If Apple wanted to replicate its victory over Samsung in China, the company "must first have the requisite patent portfolio, and then it would have to file in a Chinese court", he said.
The damages that Samsung was ordered to pay to Apple in California are the fourth-largest jury award in a patent case in US history, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Apple had asked the court for US$2.5 billion to US$2.75 billion in damages for violations of certain iPhone and iPad patents. These include the "rubber-banding" technology that makes an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch display seem to bounce when a user scrolls to the bottom, and multi-touch functions such as pinch-to-zoom and swipe-to-scroll.
The company could ask for triple the amount of damages awarded because jurors found "wilful" violation of its patents. But jurors also found that Samsung did not infringe one patent covering the design of Apple's iPad, which targeted Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the lawsuit.
In a memo sent to Apple employees following that verdict, chief executive Timothy Cook said its legal battle with Samsung "has always been about something much more important than patents or money".
"It's about values," Cook said. "We value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on earth. And we do this to delight our customers, not for competitors to flagrantly copy."
Cook, who marked his first anniversary as Apple's chief yesterday, pointed out the company "chose legal action very reluctantly and only after repeatedly asking Samsung to stop copying our work". He said the jury's verdict sent "a loud and clear message that stealing isn't right".
Apple filed for a preliminary injunction to the California court that sought to bar Samsung from selling the 25 infringing products. These devices included the Galaxy SII, the Galaxy S 4G, Nexus S 4G and Galaxy Tab. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for next month.
Samsung has filed a motion to overturn the US jury verdict. If that motion fails, it will file an appeal.
In a statement, Samsung said: "It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners, or technology that is being improved every day by Samsung and other companies."