You might think of it as two of the biggest schoolyard bullies having a go at one another to see who will be the last bully standing.
The much-anticipated Apple vs. Samsung patent infringement trial kicked off this week and it promises to be a show of mythic proportions. What's the beef? Well, Apple brought suit in April 2011 against Samsung, claiming the Korean company essentially copied its iPhone and iPad. Samsung counter-sued, indicating that it was Apple who in fact infringed on Samsung's patents.
In the run-up to the trial, things were already boiling over between the two technology giants. Apple blocked the sale of a Samsung tablet in the U.S., even as a British judge told Apple to inform consumers on its U.K. website that Samsung didn't copy its iPad. Meanwhile, Samsung shredded an Apple's MacBook in its recent "Rethink the Laptop" stunt.
Just to add a little more gasoline to the patent fire, it is no small thing that Samsung's smartphones use Google's Android operating system. Fact is, Apple is involved in similar claims of patent infringement with HTC and others using Android in their smartphones, perhaps being egged on by the spirit of their deceased but indomitable founder. Steve Jobs famously told biographer Walter Isaacson, "I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this." (A judge agreed to ban this quote from the trial.)
The trial itself will have implications for the mobile device market, technology innovation, and the perceptions of the brands themselves. For one thing, Apple and Samsung dominate the smartphone market; together, they share over 50 percent of worldwide sales. A positive outcome for either company will likely impact market share. For another, regardless of who wins, the trial casts a harsh light on a U.S. patent system that is fuzzy at best. Large companies routinely apply for and are granted patents so broad that infringement is virtually inevitable. Since larger companies have the resources to vigorously defend their patents, this makes it hard for small companies to innovate without risking a patent infringement case, which would be very expensive to litigate.
And then there is the potential impact on the brands themselves. Apple is using visual evidence that fundamentally suggests it has a lock on certain product design elements associated with iPhone and iPad and, by extension, with the Apple brand itself. Samsung's visual evidence, however, attacks the notion that Apple's design is uniquely theirs. This goes to the very heart of what makes Apple Apple.
Samsung, in a controversial move, sent its rejected evidence directly to the media, a move that only served to further irritate judge Lucy Koh, who the BBC described as "livid," and prompt Apple to ask the court to punish Samsung for releasing the documents.
In the case's opening statements, attorneys for each side foreshadowed the brand-bashing that would occur. Apple's attorney, Harold J. McElhinny, stated (per the Wall Street Journal), "At its highest corporate level, Samsung decided to simply copy every element of the iPhone." Samsung's attorney, Charles Verhoeven, said, "Apple didn't invent the rectangular shape form-factor you keep seeing" and it doesn't have the right to claim "a monopoly on a rectangular shape."
This trial is being extensively covered in the press and tweeted about, and the public display of behind-the-scenes dirty laundry is likely to harm the image of both brands. It leads one to wonder whether, in the end, there will really be a winner. In the meantime, it's business as usual outside the courtroom, with Apple gearing up for the expected iPhone 5 reveal in September and Samsung this week introducing a music hub in the U.S. in a bid to counter iTunes.
[image via Business Insider]