The Shape of Things to Come: Apple Might Be Facing a Healthy Dose of Its Own Medicine

October 24, 2014

Apple, Inc. has developed a reputation for actively and aggressively defending its intellectual property rights in its products. In particular, it has recently been involved in a number of high profile patent cases: Creative Technology v. Apple, Inc. (click here); Typhoon Touch Technologies, Inc. v. Dell, Inc. (click here); Nokia v. Apple, Inc. (click here); Apple v. HTC (click here); Kodak v. Apple, Inc (click here), and; Apple, Inc. v. Motorola, Inc. (click here). But its recent litigation against Samsung, click here, is likely to have a lasting impact, and perhaps not the way that Apple had intended.
In the case, Apple successfully sued Samsung for infringement of six of the patents it owns for its highly popular iPhone line. Click here. Among the patents Samsung was found to have infringed was the shape of the iPhone 4 model. Click here. Samsung’s attorneys, in their losing argument, characterized this patent being for nothing more than “a rectangle with rounded corners[.]” Click here. Although this is almost certainly an oversimplification of the claim in Apple’s patent, all smartphones have the same general shape – the logical result of a number of products that all serve the same consumer need.
Spinning the clock forward approximately two years, Apple has just released its much-anticipated iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Click here.

Apple’s 39 million sales of iPhones and $8.5 billion in net profit over this most recent fiscal quarter both represent significant increases from the company’s 2013 performance, click here, but this success may come at a cost as a result of the precedent set in Apple’s victory against Samsung.

The court concluded that the Samsung Galaxy S was substantially the same shape as the iPhone 4, the shape of which is patented by Apple. Click here. A relatively simple counterargument to this is that the shape of Samsung Galaxy S was chosen because it is what the smartphone consumers wanted. This same reasoning is likely a major motivation behind Apple’s designs for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which are significantly larger phones than their predecessors. Click here. The majority of consumers are in favor of larger screens, click here, something that the new iPhones offer. However, “Samsung is the undisputed driver of big screen smartphones[.]” Click here. In fact, a side by side comparison of the Apple iPhone 6 and the Galaxy s5, click here, show uncanny similarities between the two market competitors. Although the job of a court of law is often to draw very difficult lines between what is acceptable and what is not, how would a court draw the line between the iPhone 6, at 0.27 inches in thickness and boasting a 4.7-inch screen, and the Samsung s5, at 0.31 inches in thickness and offering a 5.1-inch screen, click here? And how will that line compare to the one already drawn by Apple’s victory against Samsung? The answers to those questions may very well be expensive ones for Apple.