By the Blouin News Technology staff

RED ZONE: Global mobile conflicts

by in Enterprise Tech, Media Tech.

Models display new smartphones from Japan

AFP/ Getty / Yoshikazu Tsuno

The patent battle between Apple and Samsung was perhaps the most highly publicized IP spat of 2012. The lawsuit, which was focused on the Galaxy Nexus, officially began in April over alleged copyright infringements baked into the Galaxy Nexus. When Samsung released the Galaxy SIII (a would-be iPhone- killer), and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (a would-be iPad-killer) Apple added the new devices to the court case, and they became the central focus of the struggle. Judge Lucy Koh, presiding over the case, banned the Galaxy Tab 10.1 from entering the market, almost certain the jury would find Samsung in violation.

It did so, but not for Galaxy Tab 10.1, the ban for which was lifted on October 1. Judge Koh levied damages of more than $1 billion against Samsung on August 23 and banned the Nexus. Samsung appealed the case. On October 11, a federal appeals court reversed the ban, finding that Koh had misused her discretion in the ruling.

This reversal was something of a pyrrhic victory for Samsung, just as a later rejection of Apple’s request for injunction would be: neither restored the company’s damaged reputation. The initial trial received more publicity than the appeals; most of the non-tech world had tuned out by the time the ruling was reversed. (This type of reputational damage could explain why HTC decided to settle with Apple in November.) Remember, also, that Samsung still owes Apple over a billion dollars, and it is highly unlikely that Samsung will obtain any damages from the short-term ban of the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

The specific patents Apple sued over seem to forecast a frenzy of lawsuits about critical smartphone features in the next year. They include fundamentals of interactivity like pinch-to-zoom; they also embrace the specific design of iPhones and the general design of the iPad, which have become part of the design language of mobile tech. Some argue that these patents are overly broad; some say that to expect a company to steer clear, for example, of the rounded-square icon styling that’s such a central part of iOS or to avoid thin, glass-fronted slab builds for their phones would border on the insane.

One day after Apple’s December request for injunction was thrown out, Samsung ended its efforts to ban the sale of iPhones and iPads in Europe. Even though Samsung’s response could be interpreted as a peace offering, Apple might not be willing to accept it. Former CEO Steve Jobs strongly believed that that Android was a stolen product; going after companies that build devices based on it was a strategic priority of his before his death. His successor Tim Cook’s position is more nuanced. He has spoken strongly against those he believes infringe on Apple’s designs, but has admitted he dislikes litigation.

Yet all this might be mere prologue. Some analysts call Apple’s Samsung suit a clear signal to Google that it is infringing on Apple’s iPhone patents; Apple is not fighting Google directly, the argument runs, because it is an evasive target: it offers Android software to device makers at no cost, and makes its money from advertisements that run on those devices. And though Apple is still the dominant player in the U.S. (owning 48.1% compared to Android’s 46.7%), Android is not that far behind. The latter, after all, was the operating system of 75% of the smartphones shipped worldwide in the third quarter of 2012. The world of mobile tech, in other words, might be in for a global conflict in 2013.