Crazy Pills


Apple and Samsung, Love and Hate by A Milder Despot
October 19, 2011, 9:43 am
Filed under: A Milder Despot

Samsung this morning announced that its components cooperation with Apple will continue.

The Korean firm supplies memory chips, display panels and other components for Apple products… Apple was Samsung’s second-largest client in 2010 after Japan’s Sony Corp, accounting for four percent of its 155 trillion won ($142 billion) annual revenue.

While this wouldn’t ordinarily be a huge deal, the worldwide patent battles between the two hardware giants makes a status-quo business partnership between the two odd. Animosities are brewing; Samsung recently pulled its new tablet from the Australian market in light of a court injunction.

Ars Technica’s Chris Foresman had a good rundown of the clashes between the two companies in a number of different countries.

[A] German judge upheld an injunction barring Samsung’s German subsidiary from selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the European Union, even though a Dutch court disagreed on the validity of Apple’s registered Community Design. Still, the Dutch court did issue an injunction against Samsung’s Galaxy S smartphones based on an Apple patent for photo management on a mobile device. Samsung has until October 13 to find a workaround for that infringement, which may simply require a software update for an included photo gallery app.

The German decision is strange because it focuses on what the photo application for the Galaxy S looks and operates like. Do consumers care? Do consumers even pick up a Galaxy S and think “Wow, they sure ripped off Apple here”?

Accusations of patent infringement has become a favorite tool of both large corporations looking to maintain market share, as Apple and Samsung are proving, and small “patent troll” firms that make a quick buck by registering dozens of patents, filing lawsuits and settling. Tim Lee ran down these problems in a National Review piece a few weeks ago, and comes to a reasonable conclusion with a pessimistic outlook:

software patents are unnecessary because software is already eligible for copyright protection. Not only is copyright law simpler and less expensive than patent law, it also doesn’t have patent law’s problems with inadvertent infringement. As long as programmers write their own code from scratch, they can be confident they aren’t infringing others’ copyrights.

Unfortunately, given the political influence of large companies with substantial patent portfolios, there’s little hope of Congress’s reversing the legalization of software patents by the courts. The best hope for reform is that the courts will correct their own mistake.

The lack of sour grapes between Apple and Samsung in their announcement of their business cooperation is a sign that patent lawsuits have become standard operating procedure for tech firms. This is a troubling sign.

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