For the last two weeks, Apple has been the subject of increasing skepticism and criticism in the tech world. Apple started working towards banning Samsung’s 10.1-inch tablet (the Galaxy Tab) in February 2012, the injunction being approved by the beginning of last week. By the end of the week, Apple hit Samsung with another injunction, this time against Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus phone. Apple claimed things such as voice and search functionality violated its own copyright patents and should not be tolerated. Judge Lucy Koh believed that Apple made its preliminary case, and granted the ban (temporarily for now).
Although Apple will not struggle to pay its $96 million bond to make the Samsung phone ban rather permanent for an indefinite period (the company has $100 billion in savings), the point of contention for me is not the money but the absurdity of the entire situation. Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner is right to say that Apple’s patent wars with other companies (not to mention each company involved in the smartphone market) have created some silly lawsuits for the sake of cutting off opponent company finances. Posner stated earlier this week that Apple claimed in a case he judged (Apple vs. Google) that Google infringed on its copyright because a tap is a “zero-length swipe.” How absurd is this? Completely absurd! Smartphones are being made with touchscreens today; how crazy is it to brand someone as infringing on a copyright because the company allows consumers to “touch” a touchscreen?
This week, Samsung got a break, however: the ban that has been placed on Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus was put on hold, allowing Google and Samsung to breathe easier. If you visit the Google Play Store, however, Google removed the Galaxy Nexus from its website and plans to introduce a new Nexus update that will prevent the ban from taking place on one of its most prized phones. Whatever the form of the update, it will be a software update that will remove the voice and search functionality violations that Apple claimed against the phone.
While Google and Samsung breathed a sigh of relief, however, Apple did what the company does best: go after more companies. The Cupertino, California company attempted to place an injunction on 29 HTC phones and tablets, all that run Android as their operating system. Apple asserted that these 29 HTC phones violate Apple’s “data-tapping” patent (one that HTC says it honored when manufacturing its smartphones) and should be banned. The injunction was filed back in the first week of June 2012, but the International Trade Commission (ITC) made their official ruling this week. The ITC stated that they could not make such a ruling because they are not sure if HTC manufacturing will affect Apple in any way. John Paczkowski explains:
“Apple requested that ban [HTC] in June, alleging that 29 HTC smartphones infringe its ‘647 ‘data-tapping’ patent, and arguing that their continued importation into the US will cause Apple substantial harm” (http://allthingsd.com/20120703/apples-bid-for-emergency-ban-on-htc-android-phones-bounced/).
Where is the harm? What harm could HTC do to a company who has $100 billion in its financial bank and makes over $100 million a day? Are there any quarter sales that can show us the numbers of the two companies, side by side? I just do not find Apple’s claim to be realistic in terms of its financial statements, which is why I agree with the ITC. Apple seems to have no financial risk, despite the fact that Apple lost to Samsung by six percent in a quarter sales count earlier this year. If Apple has lots of money in the bank and makes millions each day, where is the financial risk? There is none. Apple’s lawsuit against HTC, however, is more than just Apple fearing the loss of revenue; Apple’s lawsuit is against smartphones and tablets that bear the Android OS because of this: Apple wants to eliminate Android.
According to ComScore Mobilens, Android is still voted the favorite OS for American users, and in the UK, Android has been rated the top system—the Samsung Galaxy S III the smartphone favorite. The numbers show that Apple trails Google and its Android OS by nineteen percent in ComScore’s thirty-thousand mobile user survey. Apple also trails LG in manufacturing by four percent, although the company has grown in this area. Far behind Apple in the area of manufacturing is HTC, owning only six percent of the devices that mobile users utilized in the study. This contradicts the notion that HTC Corp is a threat to the California company—once again verifying the ruling of the ITC.
The Samsung injunctions and HTC injunction attempt are terrible legal troubles by themselves; then, however, you must factor in the two Chinese copyright infringement cases, one from Shenzhen Proview (an electronics company), the other from Jiangsu Xuebao (a household chemical company). Proview sued Apple for using the “IPAD” name for three years without a legal copyright patent. Apple created a fake business by which it “purchased” the name from a Taiwan affiliate (who did not have legal claim to the name). Jiangsu Xuebao contains “Xuebao,” Chinese for “Snow Leopard”—the name of Apple’s best-selling Mac OS to date. What many do not know is that Apple applied for the Chinese name back in 2008 when it planned to sell Snow Leopard on the Chinese market; China’s copyright office rejected Apple’s claim. The fact that Apple knew the name infringed on copyright back in 2008 and still decided to announce the name of the new operating system in its Developers Conference on June 8, 2009 is a clear case of intentional disregard for international copyright law. The facts are against Apple; however, Mashable states in its article (link above: “2008”) that the chemical company Jiangsu Xuebao also makes touchscreens. This exacerbates the problem, since the company has the right to brand its touchscreens “Snow Leopard” if it so prefers.
How does all of this news affect you, the consumer? If you love and appreciate Apple products as I do, it poses problems and questions. One problem revealed by Apple’s legal record as of late is unethical practice. The “Snow Leopard” name is one that the company knew belonged to Jiangsu as of 2008; why then, would they produce an OS and name it “Snow Leopard” in 2009? This is a defiance of the highest order and one that should have cost more than a mere $80,400 in infringement penalties.
With the “IPAD” acronym and name that belonged to Proview, Apple is wrong for not investigating copyright law and contacting Proview to secure the “IPAD” name. Did Apple know whether or not the seller operated within his or her legal right to sell the name to Apple? Apple did not have to purchase the name by creating a fake British business; the company could have gone to Proview publicly and honestly, and addressed the issue of the name purchase. The “fake” business and the “illegal” Taiwan affiliate provide hints for Apple customers that send a response of “wrong, wrong, wrong”!
These recent unethical actions by Apple put a black mark on the company’s wonderful innovations. It is often said that “the shoes make the man”; unfortunately, it can also be said that “the man makes the shoes”—and he can be judged apart from those shoes. Look past Apple’s wonderful products and see “the man” (the company) for what it is. This may not make you stop purchasing from Apple (and I would hope that you continue to purchase their products), but it should help you understand that Apple, at her best, is as fallible as any other corporation on the planet. I am not so sure that Steve Jobs would applaud these actions if he were here.
For more information on Apple’s recent legal troubles, check out the IPhone 4s Jailbreak Week in Recap for more details.