Apple's US$1,049,343,540 victory: Google, don't tread on me

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Samsung Electronics isn't the only one stinging from Friday's overwhelming defeat at the hands of Apple; this is a massive blow to Google and Android, too.

(Credit: CNET)

A San Jose, California, District Court jury awarded Apple US$1.05 billion in damages after it found that Samsung had wilfully copied the various design cues of the iPhone and iPad. In doing so, it just laid a smack-down on the entire Android community.

While the monetary damages are significant, they pale in comparison to the precedent set by this jury that Apple's design patents are valid and worth protection, giving it licence to go after any company with a similar-looking product. That's bad news for any company building an Android smartphone or tablet.

"This is a big loss for Google," said Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics. "There were actually two parties being sued by Apple. Google just wasn't named."

That Samsung will appeal the case is a virtual certainty, but that's beside the point. The decision will reverberate around the world, likely affecting the myriad other cases being heard in multiple courts in different countries. Apple has another face-off against Samsung in an appeals case that more directly ties into Google and a patent over universal search, and Apple will be the one with momentum on its side.

So, yes, the battle may rage on for another few years. But thanks to this decision, public perception will be on Apple's side. The decision was so lopsided that it has to make all of the other Android partners a bit nervous. While an appeal is an option, it doesn't look good.

"The verdict is certainly indicative of what could happen in future cases," said Brian Love, a law professor at Santa Clara University. "And certainly this is something that lawyers and managers of other Android partners are considering. They have to think about what their chances are for success now."

Samsung decried the ruling, warning that it would hurt consumers.

"[Friday's] verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer," Samsung said in a statement. "It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation and potentially higher prices."

It also vowed to keep fighting.

CNET contacted Google for comment, but has yet to respond.

Even as the legal machinations roll on, Android players may indeed start lining up to strike licensing deals with Apple.

Do any of them want to subject themselves to the kind of circus that Samsung has had to deal with? Samsung spent the last few weeks revealing all kinds of juicy details and pouring resources into a legal strategy that ultimately was fruitless.

Samsung is by far the strongest Android player, and had the resources to mount the best possible legal campaign. In addition, Google had been quietly providing its own support.

But if all of that wasn't enough, what chance does HTC or LG have if Apple were to begin looking elsewhere? HTC is already smarting from a loss with at the US International Trade Commission (ITC), and isn't relishing another legal clash against Apple.

Another issue: Samsung's patents, which are essential to wireless standards and a core part of its defence, did little to sway the jurors. That's bad news for a lot of the major players, particularly Google, which spent US$12.5 billion to buy Motorola Mobility in large part because of the exhaustive portfolio of patents in its arsenal — many of which are related to essential wireless technology. Google is still poring through those patents now.

Apple, meanwhile, just won on several patents that are critical to the smartphone experience, from the "rubber band" effect that comes from scrolling down a screen to the pinch-and-zoom function on pictures, and it can now go out and enforce these against the entire industry.

With many Android users already paying a licence fee to Microsoft, and now needing to pay an additional fee to Apple, Google's free operating system isn't as free as it used to be.

"Google distributes Android for free, but the IP [intellectual property] licensing costs — from Apple lawsuits and Microsoft's successful IP licensing business — are getting quite expensive," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis.

Well, there's always Microsoft and Windows Phone.

Via CNET.com



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