Who Owns What? Apple vs. Samsung…

I want to start of by saying that I am not a lawyer.  I don’t play one on TV and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last evening.  That being said, I have an MBA and have studied Intellectual Property law as thoroughly as someone without a law degree can as I have been neck-deep in Open Source for many years, and that has not been without its own exciting lawsuits.  Having said all that, I do have an opinion about the one-billion dollar award Apple received from a jury in their lawsuit against Samsung.  If you don’t want to wait until the end of the post to get my opinion, I’ll tell you right now I think that Samsung got the short end of the stick.  That’s right…I think the jury got it dead wrong…and that isn’t because I work for an Apple competitor.  If you want to find out why, continue reading. 

Once upon a time I bought a car…a minivan to be exact.  It was a Dodge Grand Caravan.  White, tinted windows…sort of nice for a used car I guess.  But then I sold it three years later, and I bought another one.  But this time it was a gold(ish) Oldsmobile Silhouette.  This one also had tinted windows, but it had a bigger engine, automatic EVERYTHING and a bigger price tag.  Then four year later I sold that one…and I bought yet another one.  This time it was a maroon Ford Freestar.  It too had tinted widows, some power options (but not like the Oldsmobile) and a good strong engine, about the same size as the Oldsmobile.  Now, this is three different minivans from three different manufacturers with three different engines and all of them had different features.  How is this possible?  Why didn’t they file lawsuits against each other?  You may be asking yourself “why is this clown talking about minivans in the context of Apple vs Samsung?”

Not being independently wealthy I can’t afford to go out and buy an iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy (anything) to dismantle and look at them side by side. However, I do have an iPhone, and I have friends with the Galaxy SII’s, and guess what…I don’t think they look anything alike…not to me anyway.  But I have to admit, the Samsung phone is more appealing to me physically.  But let’s keep going.  The iPhone, as we all know, runs iOS, whereas the Samsung phones (most of them anyway) run the Android OS.  Completely different operating systems (like the different engines in the minivan’s).

I could have a LONG posting if I listed the exact complaint Apple filed, but the point of my posting is simply this.  Apple and Samsung have created phones that may look similar, but they use completely different technologies under the hood.  Android is based on Linux, and iOS is based off of Darwin and NeXTSTEP…something that is based on NetBSD and FreeBSD).  BSD IS_NOT Linux.  When you install them with the right GUI they can look similar but they simply are not the same.

Here is my point.  Samsung may have gone out of their way to copy the iPhone in terms of what you can do with a smartphone.  However, I have serious reservations about taking the lawsuit at face-value when you are talking to different operating systems using different code.  Even today if you look at an iPhone and the latest Android phone from Samsung, I can tell you right away which one is the iPhone…because they just don’t look or act the same…period.  If Apple was using Android, and Samsung came along and said “hey…let’s make a phone just like the iPhone” (which, in fact, they did say) and they used the SAME CODE to put the SAME FEATURES in the finished product, then Apple might have a case.  But as it stands now, I see two different minivans with two different engines with different features, but both have sliding doors. I see two bottles of Pino Noir from two different vineyards.  I see an Airbus A-321 and a Boeing 737-900.  Similar but different…all of them.

Bottom line…legally, Apple has grounds to stand on…I don’t dispute that.  What I dispute is this…was Samsung’s copying of features in their own sort of way really worth one-billion dollars?  Personally, I don’t think so.  My opinion (which is mine and mine alone) is that the ONLY reason this lawsuit went forward is that Apple lost the majority share in the smartphone market…pure and simple.  And it isn’t because iOS isn’t a quality OS.  It’s because Apple keeps it locked up tight.  People DO_NOT like having closed systems anymore…that is why people (like my son) jailbreak their iPhones.  People like Android because it is open.  People like the applications.  People like the fact that you could run Flash on Android devices (that was huge).  Apple made a business decision, and people said “sorry…I don’t like that decision” and they voted with their wallets.

If anything, Samsung is guilty of wanting to be Apple, and as they don’t have access to iOS they used Android.  In my mind that isn’t worth a billion dollars in Apple’s pocket…no matter how you look at it.  Legally, I am sure I am wrong.  It is, however, that reason that people are now saying that our patent system is broken.  I agree.

8/28/2012 Update

I got a reply to this posting on LinkedIn, and I wanted include the reply from Keith Adest because I feel it is on-point, and accurate.

 I like the write up but have to disagree. 🙂 I have owned both the Samsung Galaxy S and the current Iphone4s. In regards to design, take a look at the older Galaxy line, besides the captivate version, they were pretty much ripoffs of the Iphone. In regards to software, Samsung designed their touchwiz overlay on top of android to mimic most Apple IOS effects and functionality. There is also the trail of internal emails where they go into detail on what they wanted to steal from Apple.

Before everyone jumps on Apple… This case was against Samsung.. Not Android, Not HTC, and Not Motorola.

I am glad Samsung lost. I believe it is a great wake up call to start to innovate.

Keith’s response is correct.  My focus on the article was really the issue of if what Samsung really did was worth $1B.  I purposely used the example of the minvan because everyone makes them, most have similar features, yet you don’t see any lawsuits.  I think we have a broken patent system.

That being said, Samsung really didn’t help their case by their emails talking about what they wanted to steal.  I am sure that won’t look good on a resume.

Thanks Keith for your comments!

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