Is Apple Right? Yes and No.

by DMR2012 on August 21, 2012

The Apple-Samsung trial has been the big talk of the tech world, although some tech experts believe that the trial has continued for too long—to the ennui of the average Joe or Jane at your local grocery store or community. Apple has stated from the beginning of the trial that Samsung is guilty of copyright infringement. According to the Cupertino, California company, Samsung has violated patents pertaining to tap to zoom, scrolling bounce, slide to unlock, and trade dress among others.

 

The question that jurors, the judge, and consumers want to know is as follows: is Apple right? After all, if Apple is right, Samsung will owe $2.525 billion for infringement penalties—and other companies may owe for their infringement claims as well. After all, what was once unique to Apple in 2007 has become standard across the smartphone industry as a whole. This debate between patents has been reduced to two phrases: standards-essential patents and non-standards-essential patents. Standards-essential patents, as I have stated in another post, pertain to components of standard features that are necessary for the operation to work. Tim Cook gave such an example of standards-essential patents when he said that these would involve something fundamental to 3G LTE (one example of many). Non-standards-essential patents involve things that are not basic for the product or feature in question. One example would be touchscreens. Touchscreens are standards-essential components because haptic technology has become a gold standard by which phone companies sell smartphones each year. This means, then, that Apple’s patent for slide to unlock may not be a reason for the company to sue Samsung in court. After all, the only actions you can perform on a touchscreen include taps and swipes. Slide to unlock is a swipe function, one of the few actions consumers can perform on touchscreens.

 

Back to the question: is Apple right? The answer is complicated: “both yes and no.” What makes the answer so complicated is that first, there are so many fundamental features of smartphones (as the current industry standard) that Apple’s appeals to infringement stem from an earlier era. There is a way to sort through the complicated answer, and one solution can be found in the consumer customizations the company provides. While Apple is wrong to sue for consumer convenience and “easing” (a term employed by Forbes Tech writer Anthony Wing Kosner), the company does have some legitimate reason to sue Samsung for copyright infringement. This post will cover some of the smartphone features for which Apple is suing Samsung and determine which ones are legitimate grounds for a lawsuit and which ones are standards-essential and have no basis for one.

 

This past week, tech writers in the tech blogosphere decided to post a 132-page document that Samsung was forced to present in court before Judge Koh. Apple fought to get the document admitted into court as evidence, and it is a document that Samsung did not want to be revealed. Of course, Samsung was the party responsible for leaking information about the court case to the press in the trial’s first week, so Judge Koh wasted no time giving the press something to rave about (Samsung’s private documents). There are over 120 items on the list, and points on which Apple is right and Apple is wrong.

 

One of the features on the list pertains to portrait and landscape mode. When you turn the iPhone to the side, the screen shifts to the side to accommodate your vision at a different angle than before. The shift occurs from a tall screen (portrait) to a widescreen (landscape) and responds to the device’s motion. Apple claims that this is a case of copyright infringement, but this is nothing more than “easing,” making the device more convenient with regard to watching movies or reading books. Imagine how unattractive and frustrating of a time you would have if you were forced to watch movies in portrait mode! Samsung made a note on the document to improve its portrait and landscape mode capabilities. This is for the sake of convenience, not copyright.

 

Another basic function that Samsung wanted to change on its phone involved adding a wider area for daily schedules at the bottom of its phone screen. The daily schedule on the Galaxy S phones was too small, bunched together, and hard to read. Samsung decided that Apple had a wider display schedule that would be easier on the eyes to read. Accordingly, Samsung wanted to change its own so that users would have a more attractive and appealing user experience. This is another case of “easing.”

 

Other easing issues are as follows:

 

  • Enlarging call numbers and fonts
  • One-button press to end calls quickly
  • Using one icon (maximum) for an operation
  • Eliminating screen overlap for easier reading and display
  • Adding additional countries (outside of the US) to display local weather
  • Placing the number of open web pages on the display screen
  • Adding a “copy and paste” function to text functionality
  • Incorporating a smart search whereby typing the first letter of a word yields a list of words to choose from
  • Reducing the number of screens from two to one when activating a WiFi connection
  • Easier reading when looking for the number of email recipients
  • Reducing the number of steps (from five to three) needed to place new contact entries into a smartphone
  • Removing the QUERTY keyboard from sight when viewing messages and reading texts
  • Making icons and the number of updates or messages more visible to users
  • Reducing the number of steps by which to access older and newer emails
  • Providing a feature by which users can enter a file size when a file is larger than the desired size
  • Improving the focus of the smartphone camera
  • Enlarging keyboard letters to make typing easier to read
  • Providing the number of open memos in the memo function at the top of the web page as opposed to scrolling down the list to count memos

 

There are other features (a total of over 120) that confirm the same: Samsung has done a number of transformations to its Galaxy S series in order to ease the consumer experience. Since many of these changes were made in the name of consumer convenience, they are standards-essential concepts that are universalized throughout all phone manufacturers in the world.

 

There are points in the 132-page document that justify Apple’s lawsuit. What are those? I will get to those in my next post. Stay tuned.

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