Recent legal decision in Apple v. Samsung limits marketplace competition and hurts consumers

The Apple v. Samsung verdict was a big win for Apple, but it was a loss for consumers.

During the trial, Apple argued that Samsung had violated several of its patents, including those covering the iPhone’s design, rounded-square icons and “pinch to zoom” technology.

In his closing arguments, Apple attorney Harold McElhinny pointed to documents he said showed Samsung’s panic after the iPhone came out, according to The Verge. McElhinny said Samsung officials met with Google officials, who said Samsung phones were too similar in design to Apple’s, but Samsung officials did not change the design.

Lawyers for Samsung disagreed and said design for Samsung phones predated the release of the iPhone.

Samsung attorney Charles Verhoeven said: “Your (the judge’s) decision, if you go Apple’s way, could change the way competition worse in this country … Rather than competing in the marketplace, Apple is seeking a competitive edge in the courtroom,” according to CNET.

The jury agreed with Apple and said Samsung violated six patents. Samsung said it would appeal and criticized the decision, saying it would decrease competition in the market and be worse for the average consumer.

According to Businessweek, Apple on Monday listed eight Samsung smartphones it wants banned in the United States: Galaxy S 4G, Galaxy S2 AT&T, Galaxy S2, Galaxy S2 T-Mobile, Galaxy S2 Epic 4G, Galaxy S Showcase, Droid Charge and Galaxy Prevail. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh had already banned the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and said it violated a design patent.

The patents violated by Samsung, according to the jury from the case, ranged from software, to aesthetics, to outer shell design. Apple’s double-tap-to-zoom function when viewing documents worked similarly to Samsung models. Additionally, the “bounce-back” feature that happens when users scroll beyond the edge of a page was mimicked. The third feature copied from Apple by Samsung, was the ability of Apple products to read multi-finger touches; previously devices could only read single-touch commands.

The icons on several Samsung phones, most notably the phone and clock buttons, were both similar in shape and design.

Apple had patented the overall shape of earlier generations of the iPhone, most notably the rounded back of the white iPhone. Lastly, the iPhone’s black colored, rounded-edged, square design had protection under Apple’s patents.

The consequences of this landmark verdict are numerous and many future innovations in the way of smart phones, not to mention consumer choices, are sure to be affected by this decision.

Though not the explicit point, the most immediate and literal translation of the trial will mean that smart phones and tablet computers will need to start looking different to avoid backlash from Apple. But thinking honestly and practically, how many ways can a phone look?

A rectangular phone with rounded edges is ergonomic and utilitarian. It fits into hands and slips into pockets. Any other shape would be senseless and any other edge seems to be going backward. True, as simple as the design protected may be, it is the property of Apple. But because Apple was able to win out as it did, consumers will probably see less product design crossover, meaning fewer cheaper models of products.

The other five patent violations, which are slightly more understandable, still point to a regression in smartphone technology.

Although we don’t understand several of the intricacies of patent law involved in the case, we do know it’s bad news for consumers. When Apple has a legal monopoly over intrinsic aspects of smartphone design and technology, consumers lose.