In one sense, the verdict against Samsung in its patent contest with Apple isn’t that momentous. The damages—a bit north of $1 billion—are less than half of what Apple originally sought.
And that award isn’t going to ruin Samsung: The Korean manufacturing giant made a profit of $4.5 billion in the most recent June quarter, 63 percent of which came from its mobile business. So the jury award amounts to about half of one quarter’s mobile profit for the company. (Of course, the financial hit could wind up being bigger for Samsung: The judge has the option to triple the damages awarded to Apple.)
Furthermore, of the products that the jury found violated Apple’s patents, only the Nexus S 4G and the T-Mobile Galaxy S II are still being sold. Other devices in Samsung’s current product line should be safe, thanks to design shifts Samsung made following the Galaxy S II.
Those shifts were most likely defensive, made to protect Samsung against lawsuits like this one, which Apple filed in April 2011. Many of the infringements that the jury cited in Friday’s verdict centered on elements of the TouchWiz user-interface that for the most part are no longer used.
Innovate or pay
Friday’s ruling may not be the last word on the matter, as Samsung can appeal the case. But even if the immediate impacts aren’t that dramatic, the long-term consequences could be.
For one thing, the jury didn’t just find that Samsung infringed Apple’s patents. It declared that Apple’s patents are valid. That, in turn, should put Samsung and other smartphone makers on notice: Steer well clear of anything resembling an Apple design.
“Apple has already made a big statement, because they aren’t just going after Samsung,” said industry analyst Tim Bajarin. “At the very least, Samsung and other vendors are going to have to think twice about things like icons and other design elements. Google has to be very concerned about this.”
Garnter analyst Michael Gartenberg struck a similar note in a post-verdict tweet: “Larger implications will be for other vendors who will have to carefully look at their designs post verdict,” he wrote.
But that may turn out to be a good thing: Vendors will be forced to innovate, if only to avoid an Apple lawsuit.
“Hopefully, consumers win in the long run,” said Bajarin, “because the Samsungs and HTCs of the world will have to become more creative.”
“Apple patents being upheld will force industry toward innovation and differentiation,” Gartenberg agreed. “That’s not a bad thing.”