Last week the legal spat between Apple and Samsung reached a new and unexpected level. Following a district court ruling in Düsseldorf, Germany, Samsung were forbidden from selling their new Honeycomb-based tablet, the Galaxy Tab 10.1, in all EU countries apart from the Netherlands due to copyright infringements.
Apple claim that the physical design of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 violates the iPad 2 design patents and has demanded that all Galaxy Tab 10.1 units are pulled off the shelves until the case is resolved. Samsung faces a hefty €250,000 (around $360,000) fine if they disobey the court ruling.
The announcement came after the European release of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which was first premiered back in January 2011 and was hailed as a strong competitor in a market predominantly dominated by Apple. A study by Informa Telecoms and Media showed that the iPad currently owns around 75% of the tablet market, despite the recent influx of tablets running Honeycomb, a reincarnation of Android designed specifically for tablets.
But the question still remains: why? Why would Apple sue one of its key suppliers? After all, it is Samsung that manufactures Apple’s A4 and A5 processors along with other many other parts of the iPhone such as the flash memory, which everything else is stored onto.
Let’s take a closer look at this little legal scrap to try and determine why Apple is suing Samsung, is it really worth it and whether Apple has, this time, bitten off far more than it can chew. Read on for my thoughts.
What’s All the Fuss About?
This recent lawsuit isn’t the first one between Apple and Samsung. Back in April they sued the Korean electronics company for patent infringement with regard to similarities in packaging and application icons.
Apple believes that owing to the design similarities between the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Samsung copied their design illegally, thereby infringing Apple’s patent and therefore the Tab 10.1 should not be sold.
When you compare both tablets side-by-side, they are both very similar and very different. Dimensions-wise, the Tab 10.1 is extremely similar to the iPad 2 (9.5 x 7.3 x 0.3 inches for the iPad 2 vs 9.7 x 6.7 x 0.4 inches for the Tab 10.1). The Tab 10.1 weighs a smidgen less than the iPad 2 (we’re talking a couple of ounces) and when both tablets are lined up to next each other (see the image below), you can see the similarity.
Why Did Apple Do It?
Of course, we’ll never find out the reasoning behind Apple’s legal decision, so I can only speculate, but I believe it could be down to two reasons.
The optimistic side of me would say that Apple did it to protect their own products. After all, a lot of work does go into the design of Apple products (which is one of the reasons why Apple products are priced towards the higher end of the market and command a slight luxury status). It would, of course, not be fair to let another product be sold in a market which copies an existing one.
However, the cynical side of me says that Apple did it to protect their own market dominance and to try and fend off any iPad 2 competition. This seems to me a little petty, especially when you consider that Apple has a similar lawsuit in progress with Motorola Mobility and their tablet (the Motorola Xoom) for, yes you guessed it, exactly the same reason.
A Dutch website, WebWereld did a little snooping and found that Apple may have “tweaked” the evidence slightly to make the dimensions of the Tab 10.1 more similar to those of the iPad 2’s. This is probably the reason why the district court has put the case on hold for the moment until the “tampering” claim has been verified.
Were Apple Right?
Yes and no.
The answer really depends on whether the evidence presented to the court in Düsseldorf was altered or not. If it wasn’t, then Apple have got the perfect right to sue Samsung for copyright infringement.
But if the evidence was altered, then this just demonstrates a certain insecurity by Apple’s in its own products. The iPad has been forecasted to dominate the tablet market until at least 2016, so what’s Apple’s making a fuss now for?
Apple should at least be slightly flattered that companies are trying to replicate their products, and should meet this with reward, not punishment. Steve Jobs and his band of merry men have created a very clever marketing strategy – no other company could get the customers queueing outside their retail stores for days on end or, in more unfortunate cases, selling certain body organs so that they can be the first to get their product.
In the world of technology, it is very difficult to come up with something new and innovative and many companies simply “borrow” from other ones. Take the new notifications centre in iOS 5, which is very similar to that in Android. You don’t hear Google pursuing Apple for copyright infringement. Apple simply took an idea and modified it into their own which, in my opinion, is perfectly OK (even though I have an Android phone!).
Great minds do, of course, think alike and if this means letting companies borrow each other’s ideas and modifying them into their own, then let them do it. After all, if this didn’t happen, then technology would never progress.