Lessons from Samsung's Defeat in U.S. Patent Suit

      August 27, 2012 13:35

      A nine-member jury at the Northern District Court of California decided on Friday that Samsung Electronics owes Apple US$1.05 billion in compensation for infringing on six patents, including the design of the iPhone and iPad. The jury rejected all the patent infringements Samsung accused Apple of.

      The latest ruling comes after a court in Korea a day earlier that ruled both in favor of Samsung and Apple. The Seoul Central District Court said Apple had infringed two of Samsung's mobile communications technology patents and did not accept Apple's claims that the "rectangular with round edges" design was its own, though it did fine Samsung for other violations. Courts in the UK and Germany also ruled recently that Samsung's Galaxy Tab did not copy Apple's iPad.

      The reasons for the contrasting rulings have to do with the U.S. jury system, which relies on the judgments of ordinary people rather than industry experts. Instead of delving deeply into complicated technological problems, jurors in the U.S. probably focused more on the design patents.

      Contrary to expectations that deliberations would be drawn out given the complexity of the case, the decision came in just 22 hours. Jurors may also have been affected by their desire to see a major American company succeed in such tough economic times.

      Still, the main issue is that a U.S. court has broadly acknowledged the concept of "trade dress," which refers to a product's physical appearance, including size, shape, color, design, and texture. Although the concept is quite new in Korea, it is commonly recognized in the U.S. The latest ruling is also significant in acknowledging the intellectual property rights of Apple's designs. The ruling by Judge Lucy Koh, due out within a month, is not expected to diverge too much from the jury's decision.

      Samsung wants to appeal, but it has suffered a huge blow nonetheless. A bigger problem than the $1.05 billion payment is the disgrace of being labeled a copycat. The ruling could affect decisions of courts in the U.K., France and Germany, where Samsung and Apple are also embroiled in legal battles involving around 50 patents.

      Samsung must try its best, but it really needs to bolster its design and software capabilities so that future products will not be accused of being copied. Over the short term, it will need to hire global experts to improve product designs, and Korea as a whole should recruit experts from around the world to train up-and-coming designers at universities here. Samsung should look into how it can make a contribution to that effort.

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