In the ongoing battle between tech companies to see who can create the Next Big Thing, breakneck innovation speeds can make it difficult for consumers to tell who invented what smart phone feature first.
Apple is aiming to set the record straight with a patent lawsuit against Samsung and, by proxy, Google for approximately $2 billion in damages. The trial, which begins this week and will likely last about a month, comes less than two years after Apple successfully sued Samsung for previous patent infringements. The outcome of this trial could either take another chunk out of Samsung and Google’s worldwide smart phone dominance, or could result in more shared licensing of patents (and perhaps even fewer lawsuits).
Apple is suing over five patents for smart phone functions that users use without thinking twice. Here is a sampling (via Re/Code):
U.S. Patent 7,761,414 — Synchronous data synchronization among devices, or what Apple calls its “background sync” patent.
U.S. Patent 8,046,721 — Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image, the so-called “slide-to-unlock patent.”
U.S. Patent 8,074,172 -– Method, system and graphical user interface for providing word recommendations, or the “word suggestions” patent.
Apple says these show up on ten Android devices, including the Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note 2, and Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. Ideally, Apple hopes to gain $40 per infringed phone. (Samsung has sold millions of these devices.)
In return, Samsung is counter-suing Apple for two patents it acquired from other tech companies.
Samsung says these show up on all eight of Apple’s signature mobile devices: The iPhone 4, 4S, and 5; the iPad 2, iPad 3, and iPad 4; the iPad mini; and the fourth- and fifth-generation iPod Touch.
So who is the real innovator here?
Apple will argue that Samsung developed products after Apple, with the sole purpose of hijacking the iPhone’s success. It will also point out that Samsung is countersuing over patents it bought, rather than products it created itself, a sort of character assassination in an innovation-focused tech world (“Instead of pursuing independent product development, Samsung slavishly copied Apple’s innovative technology,” Apple says in its complaint).
Samsung, in turn, will argue that Google already invented several of these features when it developed Android, before it appeared on iOS. It will also argue that the patents in contest are narrowly used, and that the $40 per phone Apple is asking in damages is exceptionally high.
Apple has history on its side. The case is being heard in the same California city, San Jose, and by the same judge, Lucy Koh, that it won about $900 million in damages from Samsung in 2012. However, Samsung is appealing, and in the meantime is still allowed to sell products with the contested features.
But with Google getting in the mix, things could get interesting. This is the first time that Google will likely be officially weighing in on the trial – witnesses could include former Android executive Andy Rubin.
All this being said, even $2 billion is a drop in the bucket for either of these companies that have command over nearly the entire population of smart phone users worldwide. Last year, Samsung made over $178.6 billion in revenue, while Apple made $156.5 billion.
Likely the point is to make a point: Apple wants everyone to know that it is the innovator in the Apple vs. Samsung mobile debate, while Samsung wants to point out that there are thousands of patents in every mobile device, and picking a massive fight over just a few is over-reacting.