Apple takes on Samsung and the world

It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen in the Apple versus Samsung court case. It’s hard to say what’s already happened.

Details of the case are confusing at best and the ramifications stretch from ‘Apple is just being silly’ to ‘Samsung pays Apple a few hundred thousand dollars and agrees not to sell any more of the iPhone clones they’ve already discontinued’ to ‘the parties have agreed to settle out of court and won’t reveal the details’ to ‘Apple now has the right to sue anyone who tries to make a rectangular device with rounded corners.’

One of the best comments I’ve seen was ‘If Apple wins will they sue the Ohio Art Company for Etch A Sketch?’ And another comment asked if everyone will have to make their phones round or triangular to differentiate them from iPhones.

Giving Cupertino the exclusive right to manufacture rectangular devices with rounded corners is just plain absurd. It’s a bit like those enterprising lawyers back in the 80s who tried to patent all sorts of computer sorting algorithms and binary arithmetic.

And I’m not really sure if Apple deserves the exclusive rights to pinch, swipe, stretch, touch, or scrolling interfaces for phones, tablets, or any touch-enabled device since other people developed those techniques before Apple adopted them.

Actually Cupertino didn’t invent a lot of things that people give them credit for. They didn’t invent the mouse or the graphical user interface (Xerox PARC did). They didn’t invent the portable music player (heck, they didn’t invent the concept, the audio format, the design, the interface or even the name – Joseph N. Grasso trademarked the word ‘iPod’ in July 2000.) 

Obviously they didn’t invent the mobile phone or tablet or laptop. In fact, if you do a little research it’s hard to identify any truly unique technology developed by Apple that isn’t based on someone else’s work.

I’m not saying they stole those ideas. In most cases they licensed or purchased the concepts and technology in a perfectly above-board fashion.  Or they saw something they liked and hired or contracted with those people to help them develop Apple versions. And for the most part Apple has done a pretty good job combining ideas and technologies, packaging things in pretty cases, and carving out a pretty good niche for themselves in a world where the technology battlefield is knee deep in failed companies.

And you have to admit that Apple is damned good at marketing their products – even if they have to round off the corners of the truth every now and then. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things that occasionally Apple has announced a ‘revolutionary new and unique technology or device’ that wasn’t actually new or unique.

But even if Apple manages to convince themselves and their faithful followers that they are the wellspring of all things techno-wonderful, that doesn’t mean they should be granted exclusive rights to produce things based on ideas created by other people.

Now I don’t really care who wins the court battle. Did Samsung copy aspects of the iPhone? Probably. Did it trick anyone into thinking they were buying an iPhone? Probably not. Did Samsung sales cut into iPhone sales? Sure (and so did every other mobile phone). You could also say iPhone sales cut into Samsung’s sales too.

And if Apple can prove that they created the chip designs, or the circuitry, or the algorithms, or anything more concrete and tangible than ‘swipe to scroll’ or ‘pinch to shrink’ and Samsung copied those things without permission then Apple deserves a settlement.

I do however worry about the courts deciding that Apple owns exclusive rights to the more ethereal aspects of a device such as the way someone interacts with it or its general shape.