Nareen Melkonian
Feb 17, 2012

Apple taking Samsung's 'Ice Cream Sandwich' to court in US: The usual or a new twist?

‘Team iPhone’ versus ‘Team Blackberry’ fights are getting more and more dated now that ‘Team Android’ has found its rightful place in the battle. How many times have you or your friends argued over Blackberry “BBM” messaging and iPhone “iChat” messaging and which is cooler or faster? How many arguments over iPhones’ and Androids’ weight or screen size have you been a part of? smartphones have become such an essential part of our progressive, multi-tasking and time-conscious society that debating over their most basic functions is a norm at any gathering, where more than one brand of smartphone is present. Luckily for us, our preferred mobile brand is probably fighting the battle with us. Or are we lucky? Because you see, the corporate leaders aren’t just yelling out comments like, “You copycats!” the way your friends might be. Companies such as Apple and Samsung are arming themselves with their strongest patents and taking their battles to the courts.

Just Thursday, Apple requested a preliminary injunction on Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus smartphone, also known as the Android 4.0 or ‘The Ice Cream Sandwich,’ due to its alleged infringement of four Apple patents: a ‘data tapping’ patent, a Siri and unified search related patent, a new slide-to-unlock patent and a word completion patent.

Before delving further into this particular case, let me just brief you on Apple’s and Samsung’s relationship history. The two companies seemed to be getting along just fine until April of last year, when Apple sued Samsung for violating their intellectual property in mobile designs. To no surprise, Samsung fired right back and counter-sued for patent infringement. Since then, the two have been meeting in different courts in both the US and Europe to try to untangle this giant knot of who’s violating what patent and who owes who compensation. Currently, the companies await a resolution from a German court, in which Apple presented more substantial, non-design related rights that Samsung is violating.

Furthermore, Samsung is not the only enemy Apple has had its targeting reticle focused on. In 2009, Apple lost a patent related case against Nokia, and now continuously pays them royalties. On the other hand, last year, the International Trade Commission granted Apple’s request for banning HTC’s import of Android phones into the US; the ban is scheduled to begin on April 19.

Though Apple did not have that same luck against Samsung in December when Judge Lucy Koh denied its preliminary injunction motion, it is hoping that its appeal to the Federal Circuit will result in success in the near future. More importantly, Judge Koh is also assigned to Apple’s and Samsung’s most recent case concerning the four patents mentioned above. Various journalists have observed that this may be an advantage for Apple since they are now experienced with the Judge’s court mentality and can better direct their arguments. I, however, argue that this is a disadvantage for Apple -- not merely because they appealed her former decision, but because the Judge will most likely be harsher, expecting them to have considerably fixed their former mistakes. Judge Koh wants hard evidence of Samsung causing detrimental harm to Apple’s business, not minor complaints about design copies.  

You can judge for yourself how detrimental the infringement of these four patents is, but to me, the entire war is kind of pointless. This should not be confused with naïveté, because I believe in intellectual property and an entity’s right to protect theirs. But fighting over ‘slide-to-unlock’ patents? If every mobile or technological company reserves a patent on every minor innovation, then where do we leave room for competition and peer improvements?

The first patent of the four, ‘the data tapping’ patent, refers to the linking of a text (such as a phone number or email address) within one application to create an easy and quick transfer into another application. For example, if someone sends you a phone number via email, that phone number is often highlighted in some way so that you can click on it and automatically call that number. The second patent Apple is disputing is about a "universal interface for retrieval of information in a computer system." Have you ever noticed your smartphone recommending specific results when you’re searching for a bar, for instance? Well, that’s the Siri way of Internet searching, which customizes itself to knowing your preferences over time. The ‘slide-to-unlock’ patent is the third one, which is self explanatory. And the final patent is the word completion patent, which is also self explanatory as it simply refers to the times your smartphone completes words for you as you begin to type them.  

Apple wants Samsung to stop the sales of their Android 4.0 because it “steals” intellectual property. Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, said in the past that he was "going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product,” and also firmly stated, “I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this." Many Android 4.0 lovers and owners have expressed their concerns about what this means for them: no smartphone user wants to have to downgrade their device to a less advanced software.

Even more significant, Apple’s successful enforcement of the Siri style Internet search patent will change all the rules for Google’s future gameplan. After announcing its acquisition of Motorola and standing by Motorola’s harsh regulations, Google is no ally of Apple’s. Hence, Apple would be more than happy to counterpose harsh regulations onto Google and its infamous search engine.

One frightening aspect of all of this is that US judges are beginning to gain a reputation of not protecting intellectual property as effectively as European, especially German, courts. So who’s to say Judge Koh is not going to tap that gavel and condemn Samsung in the name of intellectual property? If you’re a tech-geek, then you know that there are many ways to work around another company’s patents in order to avoid legal problems, while still creating a very similarly functioning software. That brings me back to my point of this being a senseless war. Companies are not going to stand by and watch one company take over the entire industry; nor are they going to pay billions of dollars to have access to one relatively tiny patent which they can work around. Simply, both Apple and Samsung need to tread lightly around these matters, otherwise the most important party is going to start getting negatively affected -- the consumers.