Tag Archive | "cell phones"

Samsung Galaxy Tab the Latest Casualty in Ongoing Legal War with Apple

By Chad O’Carroll

The seemingly perpetual legal fracas between Apple and Samsung took a turn yesterday when U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of California entered an injunction to block the sale of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 computers in the United States.  The block of sales of the newest Galaxy tablet, touted by many industry experts to be the main rival for Apple’s iPad series, was the result of Samsung’s new tablet being “virtually indistinguishable” from Apple’s iPad and iPad 2 models.

Given on Monday Jude Koh had said she would deny the injunction based on the assumption, overturned, that the Apple’s design patent was likely invalid, the move has come somewhat as a surprise for Samsung’s legal team.  “The relief being given to Apple here is extraordinary. Preliminary injunctions are rarely asked for and rarely granted,” said Colleen Chien, a professor at Santa Clara Law in Silicon Valley.  With Samsung filing a notice of appeal within just five hours, the injunction will come into effect as soon as Apple posts a $2.6 million bond to cover a potential damages payment to Samsung if Apple loses the case.  So what is this case about, what does this mean for Samsung, and what about the broader impact on the portable communications market?

Back in April, Apple CEO, Tim Cook explained Apple’s position regarding the ongoing battle with Samsung.  “I’ve always hated litigation, and I continue to hate it. We just want people to invent their own stuff…But the key thing is that it’s very important that Apple not become the developer for the world. We need people to invent their own stuff.”  With Judge Koh’s ruling that Samsung’s latest tablet was “virtually indistinguishable” from the iPad, it seems that this case may well strengthen Apple’s increasingly wide ranging claims that, “it is no coincidence that Samsung’s latest products look a lot like the iPhone and iPad, from the shape of the hardware to the user interface and even the packaging”.

A close look at the specific Galaxy Tab in question does indeed reveal several design similarities, so it is arguable that Apple’s case has some merit.  For example, the general design of the unit was so similar that Samsung’s legal counsel couldn’t distinguish the two products when Judge Koh showed them in the courtroom at a limited distance.  Even between the power cables of the iPad and Galaxy Tablet there are clear similarities, with the two designs employing USB to wide angle charging ports.  However, take many digital product lines and you’ll find many design similarities that exist. Flatscreen TVs, digital cameras, and GPS navigation units all share many close resemblances from one model to another. But in those cases we don’t hear about the type of design patent infringement claims that Apple is referring to.

By pointing to Apple’s penchant for generic design claims, Samsung had previously stalled Apple’s claim that it had exclusive rights to the form of the iPad by showing adjudicators a device eerily similar to the iPad that featured in the 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey”.  Now Samsung say that Apple’s win as a result of “generic design” patents means that “innovation and progress in the industry could be restricted.”  It is a claim that has some merit, meaning that hardware developers for standard-form products like phones, laptops and tablets might have to pay closer attention on trying to develop unique designs. But who wants a triangular phone, circular laptop or hexagonal GPS unit?  Well, there are ways around the most recent litigation that call for less dramatic means.  Because the scope of the Galaxy Tab design breach in this case is reported to be “relatively narrow”, Samsung will be able to design around the problem and continue sales if it so chooses (as it has done in other markets).  However, this adds additional hurdles to the release of hardware in markets where Apple is successful in stinging Samsung on general design issues.

But Samsung does appear to be changing gear.  While a close look at earlier Samsung Galaxy cell-phones reveals some resemblance to the iPhone, with the Samsung Galaxy III the South Korean conglomerate does now seem to be taking steps to avoid patent cases like this in its core smart-phone line, with a now radically different design to that of the iPhone.  Clearly rattled by the prospect of continued disruptions to its business and the potential for injunctions that could halt sales during important release windows, Samsung have evidently deemed it prudent to air on the side of caution for new product launches.

While Samsung may have lost this case, the U.S. sales ban follows last week’s ruling in The Hague that Apple has to compensate Samsung for damages caused by a breach of patents since August 2010.  And it is almost certain that as part of the tit-for-tat cycle of cases we’ve seen in recent months, that Samsung lawyers will almost certainly have the iPhone 5 in their targets shortly after its eventual release.  So who wins from all of this?  Despite being prevented from selling its latest tablet in the U.S., Samsung shares gained 2.5% at the close of trading in Seoul yesterday.  With Apple focusing so much on comparing their products to Samsung’s in courts across the world, perhaps they are indirectly underscoring the credibility of Samsung’s products to customers as real alternatives to Apple’s own range.   As such, it is hard to know if Apple will emerge the long-term winner from its continued and costly legal battle.

Chad 0’Carroll is the Director of Communications for the Korea Economic Institute. The views represented here are his own.

Photo from 3 Sverige’s photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Mobile Computing Wars: Samsung vs. Apple

By Chad 0Carroll

Originally known for being a company that sold bargain electronics products, in 1995 Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee ordered his employees to set on fire a mountain of 140,000 mobile phones, fax machines and other electronics in an effort to reform and rejuvenate the company.  Fast forward to 2011, and in the cell phone market Samsung has gone from being a supplier of low-end, unattractive mobile technology, to becoming one of the key players in a highly competitive smart phone market.  It’s most recent offing, the Galaxy S2, has even outsold Apple’s iPhone in some countries – something that would have been unthinkable just a year or two ago.   But this success has not come without problems, as an increasingly intense and high profile legal fracas with Apple has recently been illustrating.

Since April, Apple and Samsung have been waging an increasingly aggressive legal battle, filing over thirty lawsuits in ten countries around the world.  Apple initiated the proceedings in the U.S., claiming that Samsung’s “Galaxy” cell phones and tablet computers “slavishly” copied its own iPhone and iPad designs and patents. While Apple enjoyed some legal success, banning some of Samsung’s sales (at least temporarily) in Australia, The Netherlands and Germany, it has fared less well in the world’s largest market – the U.S. There, Samsung stalled Apple’s claim that it had exclusive rights to the form of the iPad by showing adjudicators a device eerily similar to the iPad that featured in the 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey”.  And in response to Apple’s legal attacks, Samsung accused it of infringing several of its own mobile technology and user interface patents, most recently articulating in attempts to ban the iPhone 4S and iPad2 in Italy, France Japan and Australia.

Patent disputes such as these are highly common in the tech industry, and even though some of the claims might seem petty or even farcical, they are often pursued with the aim of profiting from the sales of a competitor through settlements that oblige per-unit-payments to the winning party.  However, in this battle, Apple has made clear that it has no desire to coming to any such settlement with Samsung. Instead, it appears that Apple is seeking to prevent Galaxy sales in as many markets as possible, at seemingly any cost.

Part of this obstinacy may be down to the fact that Samsung’s smart phones use Google’s Android, an operating system that Steve Jobs labeled a “stolen” product.  Leaks from his soon-to-be-released biography claim that Jobs said, “I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank to right this wrong…I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”  Harsh words, but easy to understand when Jobs was the one who witnessed the look and feel of the original Macintosh operating system being so relentlessly copied by Microsoft in the 1980s, much to the damage of Apple’s then business model. And even easier to understand given the suspicious fact that the current Google Executive Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt was a former Apple board member and personal friend of Jobs during the time of iPhone development.

The other part of this obstinacy is possibly down to Samsung’s own very close relationship with Apple.  Although both are locked in legal battles, from the get-go Samsung supplied Apple with several key components for both the iPhone and iPad (and continues to), and has thus been in a unique position to know intimate details regarding the hardware and architecture of Apple’s designs. According to this line of thinking, Apple may have seen Samsung as abusing its “insider” position to get a head-start in its own smart-phone and tablet design process.

But is Apple’s position really tenable?  Just yesterday it won a U.S. patent for the “slide-to-lock” feature of the iPhone, opening the door for potentially hundreds of lawsuits with a plethora of manufacturers.  However, in the Netherlands the same patent case failed, because it was proved the “slide-to-lock” feature previously existed on the Neonode N1M phone.  When analyzing the current battle between Samsung and Apple, one has to ask if Apple should really have the right to patent every aspect of its technology.

To be sure, it is understandable to clamp down on companies that fake or clone one’s own technology, but had other companies taken Apple’s approach to patent litigation, where would we now be?  Could Alexander Bell now sue Apple for selling a product that allows users to transmit their voice telephonically, or could the U.S. company Bell, inventor’s of the first push button phone, also sue Apple for creating a touch-screen version of its own invention?

The reality is that the realization of Apple’s iPhone and iPad depended on the ideas and work of many other companies – the technologies these platforms are based on were not reinvented afresh for Apple’s sole purview. And while Apple did a great job in refining these ideas and adding to them, it should not blame Samsung or Android for doing the same with the current menu of cell-phone and tablet technology.  In effect, all manufacturers are moving down a usability funnel, headed to the same shared goal of achieving a perfect interaction between machine and human.

Chad 0Carroll is the Director of Communications for the Korea Economic Institute. The views represented here are his own.

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Discovering North Korea

On June 8 – 18, KEI Vice President, Abraham Kim, visited North Korea with a group of American Asia experts.  The purpose of the trip was to analyze the efficacy of sanctions, conditions in the cities/countryside, the integration of technology, the prevalance of cell phones and political conditions.  The slide presentation were shown at the GRS Annual Conference in July 2011 and a forum at Wilson Center in September 2011.

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