The European Union’s (EU) recent announcement supporting Apple in its patent dispute with Samsung certainly shocked many. The heart of the issue focuses on a patent award for the design of the iPad. To many, me included, this seems absolutely ridiculous, and is tantamount to awarding a patent to someone who manufactures four-legged chairs. Despite any resemblance the Samsung Galaxy may have to Apple’s iPad, the technology that both are built on is substantially different, as well as their corporate branding. The favourable decision for Apple is a broadside hit to Samsung as it will certainly cripple European sales for the Galaxy.
Originally patents acted as a barrier to competitive entry, making those who contemplated the cloning or mimicking of a product, think twice. There was a certain respect that patents evoked. But as competition has intensified over the years, many firms now leverage their intellectual properties to not only fend off competitors, but to aggressively target them. The patents, on their own, no longer garner the respect of other firms, so companies resort to legal action to protect their intellectual property, but to also impede competitors, if not stop them outright.
The critical issue in this war is that no one firm has cornered the market for patents, putting them in a secure position to market their products without the fear of having a patent claim obstruct their sales and marketing efforts. Many firms, Apple and RIM included, have experienced this and have agreed to licensing deals, Apple’s most recent with Nokia. The key point is: be careful where you throw a legal spear, one that protects your interests, as that target may be the owner of a patent that could undermine your ability to market a key product.
Apple’s ability to have the marketing of the Galaxy blocked in the EU certainly protects their interests, but it also signals that the gloves are off. Other competitors, if given the chance, may not be willing to settle on a licensing arrangement with Apple. Instead they may feel more comfortable continuing to hold their foot on Apple’s throat, choking the life out of them. As the adage states, those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Apple, beware!
Ryck Marciniak (guest blogger)