Apple vs. Samsung: Welcome to Monopoly

I’ve been watching the Apple vs. Samsung trial with a constant frown on my face, but decided not to say much until the jury came back with a verdict. I guess I was hoping the 9 people in the jury box would see reason and do something extraordinary. I was wrong. Apple won the case, Samsung got a slap in the face with as piked iron glove, and everyone except the lawyers will be worse off for it.

The Prime Objective

Let’s get one thing straight here: As I see it this trial was never about patent infringement. It was about competition. Apple is suing Samsung and has already or is going to sue every other manufacturer of Android handsets for some form of patent infringement in every country where these handsets are being sold because Apple sees any handset powered by the little green robot as a genuine threat to its self-defined rightful and uncontested seat on the throne of the Smart Phone Kingdom. In many countries these court cases have already been slapped down for being what they are – badly disguised attempts at monopolizing a market – but in this landmark case in the US, they walked away with a decisive victory, one that will define the future of the smart phone market and stands a good chance of ruining everything for everyone, Apple included. This was never about intellectual property rights; It was about Lust, Greed, Envy and Pride.

Innovation thrives on competition

Apple set out to quash the competition, and they did so with force. No matter how you slice it Samsung is eating away at Apple’s dominance in the market in a very big way and will likely continue to do so. In many countries Samsung handsets already outsell iPhones, and the numbers are getting closer in North America as well. Except now Apple has a carte blanche to try to knock down every new handset Samsung rolls out because it looks like a smart phone. And while religious Apple fanatics see this as a victory and are likely already skipping to the comments section to write a vitriolic retort, this is in reality a huge blow to everyone including Apple fans because this verdict puts a severe damper on innovation.

The smart phone market is thriving and evolving at a break neck pace. If you want to stay on the forefront you pretty much have to trade in your handset every 6 – 8 months now, and every new step in the smart phone evolution is enormous. The phone I have today makes the phone I had two years ago seem like a toaster. And that’s good. But if the competition lessens there is little reason for Apple or anyone else to keep the evolution moving at this break neck speed. Research, design, and manufacturing is expensive, and slowing things down when there is no threat of losing market share makes financial sense.

Now I know what you’re going to say crazy Apple Dogmatics: “Apple will continue to innovate, competition or not, because Apple is the pinnacle of technology and the reason why we are no longer in the iron age.” You are so wrong my friend. So. Wrong. The reason why Apple has done so well is because they used to do so badly. And the reason they did so badly was because they were not trying to beat the competition. For a while they rested on their laurels, and as a result the competition buried them. And that will happen again, except this time, because of all these idiotic lawsuits, there will be no one there to bury them, and we will be left with old and crappy hardware and little innovation. It may not happen right now, but we’re only one backwards thinking CEO away from dystopia.

Seven Deadly Sins

If I were a religious man I’d say Apple is making a valiant effort at perpetrating as many of the Seven Deadly Sins as possible. The trial started because of their Lust, Greed, and Envy: They lusted for complete dominance of the market, their greed drove them to want to take all the profits not sharing the space with anyone, and the lusted envied anyone who got in their way with something new and interesting. Like petulant children they looked out at the world and noticed not everyone was eating from their orchard. And rather seeing this as a challenge and reason to excel, they set out to burn down the robot factories.

Now that they won they have moved on to another sin, the original, and most deadly of them all: Pride. In true Apple fashion the win was immediately touted as proof that Apple are the only true innovators in the space and that they have every right to beat down the completion on legal grounds rather than in the marketplace. Which is amusing because when Microsoft pulled the same stunt back in the 1980s and 90s, Apple painted the rival as the new Big Brother.

Imagine that. Apple is now Old Microsoft. Congratulations.

Welcome to Monopoly

Monopoly is a fun game but a horrible reality. Apple wants a monopoly on everything, and for some bizarre reason I can’t wrap my head around Apple fans, especially North American fans, want this to happen. Never mind monopolies are pretty much the antithesis of free market capitalism and the American Dream: Monopolies are one of the things that defined communist dictatorships! And that is the path we are now headed down.

Postface

Just to clear a few things: (a) The decision of the jury was in fact the correct one in accordance with US patent laws. The problem here is that those laws make no sense. (b) I do see Apple as a driving innovator in the field. However, despite what they say Apple did not invent everything in the field – in fact most of what they claim to have invented is derivative work they patented. There is a huge difference. There were touch screen phones before the iPhone and tablets before the iPad. (c) I don’t have a problem with Apple products. I have a problem with their monopolistic anti-competition policies. To my eyes Apple is making every effort to be the only company to supply smart phones, tablets, and other devices. That is not good for anyone but Apple share holders. (d) I am not a legal expert, I am a technologist and logician. The opinions expressed here are based on my understanding of the marketplace and a logical breakdown of the arguments presented by both sides of the debate.

Further Reading

For a an alternate, but not all that different, view check out Apple Winning the Patent Wars Is Great for Innovation over at Gizmodo. While I take the glass-pretty-much-empty approach to this, Jesus Diaz sees the verdict as a demarcation line from which Apple’s competitors will go new ways and create new innovative solutions for the smart phone market. Jesus as I are pretty much in agreement, we just differ on the final outcome.

6 thoughts on “Apple vs. Samsung: Welcome to Monopoly

  1. I’m glad you put logic in high esteem, but I don’t see where you get to “Apple is an anticompetitive monopolist” because they want to protect their patents and trade dress.

    I’ve read the judgement, the followup coverage, and even (now) juror interviews. They threw out a lot of what Apple was claiming and asking for.

    What they did prove was that Samsung violated Apple’s trade dress and patents in a few key areas:

    – Elastic ‘bounce-back’ in scrolling lists.
    – Pinch and zoom UI.
    – Tap and zoom UI.
    – Some infringement of UI design (icons / arrangement)
    – Trade dress infringement ‘likely to confuse consumers,’ in the design of the Fascinate, Galaxy S, Galaxy S 4G, Showcase, Mesmerize, and Vibrant, in that they copied the industrial design of the iPhone 1 through 3GS.

    The smoking gun, is, of course, Samsung’s internal emails. They basically indicate wilful intent to infringe on design aspects of Apple’s hardware and software.

    It’s important to note that Apple does not hold a monopoly in anything, by the legal definition. They are not the only supplier of smartphones, or tablets, and certainly not of desktop and laptop computers, nor of operating systems and software. Nor are they a monopolist in online music/media sales, or music device sales. It’s also important to remember that smartphones are only one type of mobile phone, and worldwide, people still buy feature phones by the tonne.

    Indeed, they choose not to compete in many areas of technology, such as enterprise – they withdrew from the server market, they certainly don’t sell anything to rival the Office / Exchange ecosystem, nor do they sell server software. In the consumer space, they focus on premium devices, vs. commodity hardware. You won’t see any $200 netbooks or LCD screens from them (telling point: I love my Dell screens. Excellent value for money.)

    I would agree that patent trolling / abuse is a real problem and endless litigation isn’t in everyone’s interest, but Samsung (and by extension, Google) imitated when they could have chosen to innovate. Microsoft’s done great stuff with Windows Phone and Windows 8, for instance; it’s clearly not impossible.

    1. We are pretty much in agreement AJ. And as I said, the verdict was correct. True, Apple has the right to protect its intellectual property rights. However, the way things are heading, this is becoming a war of attrition, and Apple has a larger cash box than anyone else at the moment which they seem to have decided to use to quash the competition by any means necessary. The Apple model is one of monopolization: Locking consumers into their platform through software and hardware. These lawsuits are just one of many parts to that strategy, and it’s one that is severely problematic, especially for new entries into the field. If any one company buys enough patents and designs, that company will be able to lock everyone else out. That’s what Apple (and Google and Microsoft) is trying to do. The difference is that while Google and Microsoft are scrutinized and criticised for this type of behaviour, Apple is lauded.

      And just for the record: My Nexus S looks and behaves nothing like an iPhone. So much not so that as an Android user I get seriously confused when I am forced to use an iPhone. And I’ve been an Android user since 1.3, so those “similarities” are not all that similar when it comes down to it.

  2. Spot on for me GREED!! A very articulate argument. It worries me that these IT giants are arguing in any country they can. Competition is healthy. I understand protecting innovation and ideas but as you say it’s only to stifle the competition and the fine is way out of proportion. Maybe we now have to be retrospective about UI technology – the list would be ridiculously endless – E.G. square keys on a PC keyboard, a mouse moving across a desk, a ‘X’ to close a window …., “mouseover” event, webcams, … etc, etc, etc

    Making custom cables that only fit their hardware, Peripherals that cost the earth retail but made in sweat shops for pennies – What happened to “Universal”?

    Seems to me they’ll patent anything / any idea. Where would we be if all software and hardware was constantly challenged in this – not as far as we have come I suspect.

    So thank you to all those great people who gave us OpenSource for free, their time and gems such as Android, jQuery, WordPress, Linux, Apache, MP3, HTML5, Javascript, Plugins …

    Greedy B^^^^^^ds !!

  3. I was pretty disgusted at this outcome as well, though its sadly nothing new. The saddest part of it all is that no one wins – every loses. Even Apple doesn’t win – if they’re the only competitors in town then how much innovative and harder are they really going to be. Technological innovation will only be slowed down as competitors can’t fight for ground in what are some amazing breakthroughs that should be expanded upon. Sad šŸ™

  4. Samsung is now suing Apple over 4G LTE patents and trying to get the iPhone 5 pulled. None of the big players are innocent and would rather litigate than innovate. It’s a joke.

    I hear all about how it hurts the consumer. I’m not sure I agree as we have more patent lawsuits than ever before but also more devices, features, etc.

    Mike

    1. Yes, the main problem is the gratuitous and mostly ridiculous patent cases and everyone is to blame, but Apple is more aggressive than anyone else and is the only company that says outright they are using the courts to try to quash the competition all together.

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