On Friday, the tech world was buzzing over the news that Apple won (to the tune of $1billion) its lawsuit against Samsung for patent infringement. The jury found that Samsung did, in fact, infringe upon and violate many of Apple’s patents. It is well known that patent-happy Apple has patented everything from the “pinch and zoom” motion consumers use to navigate mobile devices to the ‘bounce-back” action that the scrollbars make on the iPhone and other Apple devices. Apple winning the suit is one thing. But what does it mean for the mobile market in general? Samsung’s devices are arguably some of the most popular in the world running Android. What does this mean for the war between Apple and Google’s operating system?
Turns out, alot. Steve Job’s well known hatred of Android (and Google) is well documented. He famously called it “a stolen product” and vowed to fight it vigorously. And with recent numbers citing that Android was running on 68% of the word’s smart phones, Apple’s victory could mean a turn in the tide. By winning this round, other lawsuits against other manufacturers could follow. HTC, LG and a host of other manufacturers all run on the Android operating system. Apple, already a billion dollar company according to recent valuations, could make even billions more in licensing should the company decide to license to other manufacturers. Samsung included.
I wrote my Master’s dissertation on the history of multi-touch technology so while some of this may come as a surprise to others, to me it was not. When Apple purchased a small company called FingerWorks in 2005, they also purchased much of its IP. The founders, John Elias and Wayne Wasserman were pioneers in the field we now know as multi-touch. Jobs no doubt saw that they were onto something and soon the two began filing patents for Apple. FingerWorks released products to help those who suffered from RSI and other illnesses that would make it difficult to use standard keyboards. The gestures we now take for granted are the result of years of research by its two founders, one of whom suffered with RSI. The mad genius of Steve Jobs strikes again, from beyond the grave. While it might seem petty, its actually good business and Apple is well within its rights to defend said patents.
The second phase of the trial will determine whether or not Samsung must pull devices with the patent infringements from the shelves of mobile phone stores all over the US. This could be huge and the world is watching. With the iPhone 5 set to be released in September and the holiday season just around the corner, could Apple be ready to take a bite out of Android’s huge market share?
What does this mean for innovation on the mobile field? Will manufacturers be forced to create new multi-touch gestures for us to learn when interacting with mobile devices? Will we be forced to use one set of gestures for Apple devices and another for Samsung, HTC, LG and Sony? The beauty of multi-touch devices is how intuitive the gestures have become. Pinch and zoom makes sense to our brains. To patent that gesture and prevent others from using is may seem rediculous. To Apple, however, if it makes money then it definitely makes sense.