NPR Story
12:30 pm
Fri August 31, 2012

Surveying The Mobile Landscape, Post Patent Battle

Originally published on Fri August 31, 2012 12:52 pm



This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, I'm Ira Flatow. If you have a smartphone or a tablet, you might want to pay attention to this story because last week a jury in California reached a verdict in a major patent battle case between electronics makers Apple and Samsung, a fight over the way their mobile devices worked and looked.

The jury found that Samsung had copied some of Apple's intellectual property and awarded Apple over a billion dollars in fines. But what comes next? And will that decision have any impact on what your next phone will look like? Joining me now is Christina Bonnington. She's a staff writer for Wired, based in San Francisco.

She was in the courtroom for the case. Welcome to the program.

CHRISTINA BONNINGTON: Hi, Ira, thanks for having me.

FLATOW: Before we talk about the facts of the case, what's the courtroom like in a battle like that?

BONNINGTON: So it's very quiet, and there's a lot of tension in the air. There's a lot at stake in this case, obviously upwards in billions in damages. There was Apple sitting on the plaintiff's side, which is the right side of the courtroom, and Samsung was on the left, and the - there were nine jurors.

FLATOW: And Apple made its presentation that - what was the Apple presentation like? I'm just curious because I know when they make those presentations, you know, new products, was it something like that?

BONNINGTON: It was. So Apple's lawyers were incredibly practiced and very eloquent. They told a very compelling story for their case, and they told it in terms that were very easy for the jurors to understand. They had lots of well-done slides and pictures illustrating their points, and when they finished speaking, you were convinced that they were in the right.

Samsung, on the other hand, they were - they came across as being defensive a lot of the time and kind of brash sometimes. And their case was also a lot more complicated and involved much more technical terms, and so I think that might have been much harder for jurors to understand.

FLATOW: And so what - what exactly did the jury find? They sort of had a mixed bag of things.

BONNINGTON: Right, so they found patent infringement for a whole host of Apple's intellectual property in the case. They found 28 cases of infringement for some of the smartphones involved. They upheld Apple's patents on iPhone and iPad design, and now Apple is seeking injunction against eight of those 28 smartphones that were found to be violating Apple's intellectual property.

FLATOW: But they didn't, the jury, rule equally on iPhones and iPads, did they?

BONNINGTON: They didn't. Curiously, they did not find any evidence of infringement on Samsung's Galaxy Tab products, which look remarkably like the iPad. In my opinion, they look far more like the iPad than many of the phones they found to be infringing look like the iPhone.

FLATOW: And they did not - Apple didn't make a case of or bring it up, the pinching on - that kind of movement where you pinch to close things up, and you spread your fingers to widen it. That was not under litigation there, was it?

BONNINGTON: No, that patent was not involved in this case. One that was heavily talked about is called the bounceback feature. So when you reach the end of a list in IOS, it kind of springs back into place, and so that's how you know you've reached the end of the list. And that's something that Samsung had originally included in its user interface on its Android phones.

FLATOW: I find it interesting that the thing that I think as their signature model, which is the pinching effect, they didn't care about or seem to want to protect that.

BONNINGTON: It was - so the pinch to zoom, it's something that they've litigated with (unintelligible) against, I believe, in the past. They were using - they had a handful of other different user interface features. There's one, double-tap to zoom, so when you double-tap, say, a little article on the New York Times homepage, it'll, you know, expand to take up the full screen.

FLATOW: And that was the core - the jury agreed that was something they owned.


FLATOW: Yeah, what about - they talked about the shape of the corners, a rounded rectangle, things like that. What did the jury think about the design features?

BONNINGTON: Right, so the jury found that Samsung was infringing those design features and that those patents that Apple held were valid. There were two iPhone design patents, and one iPad one, and basically they cover a device that is a rectangle with rounded corners, a large screen on the front, a single button at the bottom, and then in the case of an iPhone, a lozenge-shaped earpiece at the top.

FLATOW: And did they find that both equally for the iPad and the iPhone?

BONNINGTON: No, so they - so they found that there were a lot of cases of infringement for the iPhone but not for the iPad.

FLATOW: Do you have any explanation for that? Can you speculate on why that would be so different?

BONNINGTON: You know, it's just very curious. They must have - you know, they had time to go hands-on with all of the products that were involved in the case, and so they may have, you know, seen from prior art that they thought that it was very clear that the phones involved stemmed from this iPhone design and - but not so much the tablets.

There were several instances of tablets and tablet patented designs that existed before the iPad. So they may have thought that, you know, Samsung got their ideas from somewhere else.

FLATOW: So what's this going to do to buying a future Samsung or other brand that might - you know, has Apple put the fear in people of copying them now?

BONNINGTON: We'll have to see. So one of the biggest consequences that could come out of this verdict is that the price of Android devices could go up in the future because now Apple's - this portion of Apple's patent portfolio has been validated by the court system, and Apple can pretty confidently go forward and start suing any other Android hardware manufacturers it thinks are infringing on these patents.

And so that means these companies are going to be tied up and spending a lot of money in litigation against Apple, and they could also end up owing Apple money in damages or licensing fees. And both of those lead to increased costs for the manufacturer, which could be passed on to the consumer.

FLATOW: And on the other hand, the tablets may not be affected that much.

BONNINGTON: Right, so I would assume we'll continue seeing kind of similar-shaped tablets, you know, a large screen, maybe one to three buttons on the face. There hasn't been a lot of design innovation on the tablet front, which is kind of disappointing, but we probably will start seeing more innovative smartphone designs in the future.

FLATOW: Now, when we talked before, before the trial, the analysts were saying this is really not about Samsung, it's about Google and its Android operating system. That's the shot across the bow.


FLATOW: How will that affect Google?

BONNINGTON: So Apple's - Steve Jobs had said in the past that he wanted to go thermonuclear on Android because he thought that they were just outright copying IOS, and he wouldn't stand for that. So this seems to be part of Apple's plan to go thermonuclear on Android.

And what they're doing is going after - instead of going directly at Google, they're going after the individual hardware makers. And so this just makes it harder for them to keep their products on the shelves and harder for consumers to get their hands on these products.

FLATOW: There's been reports this week that Google and Apple's CEO, Larry Page and Tim Cook, have been talking about their patent fights. Is it possible that this will all somehow be settled, and the companies can reach some agreement outside of the courtroom?

BONNINGTON: It is possible. In most situations like this, the two parties do end up settling. The fact that this case event went to a jury trial is pretty unusual, you know, putting this complicated technology, all of these patents, in the hands of jurors to decide if they're valid or not and what's being infringed and not infringed - it was a big chance for both Apple and Samsung.

So usually big giants like this will just talk amongst themselves, decide who owes who money behind closed doors.

FLATOW: To be continued, in other words.

BONNINGTON: Definitely.

FLATOW: Alright, Christina, thank you very much for taking time to talk with us.

BONNINGTON: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: Christina Bonnington is a staff writer for Wired, based in San Francisco, who was in the courtroom for that big fight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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