Android may or may not be in trouble. We already know that Samsung has to be over $1 billion in damages for patent and trade dress infringement towards Apple. But what we don’t know yet is whether Apple will target smaller outfits such as HTC, Huawei and LG for the same patents. Despite the fact that Google acknowledged many of the infringed patents were Samsung-specific and did not affect broader Android usage, some of the patents, such as double-tap to zoom, are critical and widely-used.
Well, Google hasn’t been sued by Apple just yet, but its many partners have been. Motorola and Samsung have been embroiled in various lawsuits around the world, and while Apple’s success rate has been marginal outside of the United States, Cupertino still poses a great risk to the future of Android as it stands. This isn’t to say that the potential for good isn’t hidden in this verdict, obscured by all the talk of doom-and-gloom. We’ve heard it from every technology writer the world over: Samsung will be forced to innovate now, as if every idea baked into the Galaxy line and TouchWIZ had been plucked directly from Steve Job’s brain. While it’s hard to avoid the obvious invocation of borrowed ideas, rehashed design, Samsung has certainly managed to find success with Android independent of the iPhone or iPad.
Haydn Shaughnessy of Forbes.com made a good point recently: there is nothing original under the sun any longer. The iPhone is a stunning piece of industrial design, but it was not the first ‘Rectangular Portable Device with rounded Corners’ as Apple would like people to believe. “Design is fashion, a peculiar form of intellectual property that wavers and transforms by the season. Design is not invention. It arises from a common pool of creativity,” says Shaughnessy. One could argue that the world of smartphones, at least in the vein of unadorned screens like the iPhone, is still new, and that the iPhone irrevocably changed things forever. Would we have reached the Galaxy S III without the Galaxy S ostensibly copying the iPhone 3G design? It’s possible, but we will never know.
We see the story constantly: two companies develop a product independently, simultaneously, obliviously, but one earns the utility or design patent before the other, essentially negating the second’s progress. This is the Nikola Tesla / Thomas Edison problem, and it’s more a marketing issue than anything else. Apple has rampaged from the start against Android — Jobs’ “thermonuclear war” comment is a great example — and the Android brand has been tainted as a result. This isn’t to say that Apple doesn’t legitimately own patents that Samsung used without license, nor that Android does not borrow ideas from iOS, because it certainly does. But as we know, it goes both ways, and Apple has liberally borrowed from many competing platforms to augment iOS with its latest crop of features.
The question here is whether Android has been irreversibly tainted in the eyes of the average consumer. Our readers tend to know a bit more than the average consumer, mind you, but let’s put it out there: will this court result affect your decision to buy Android in the future?