I have seen a good share of patent litigation in my tenure as an attorney, but the proliferation of smartphones and tablets over the past few years has fueled a flurry of such litigation that seems unprecedented in scope and reach. Personally, I give Apple the credit for stoking the smartphone and tablet revolution with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010. From Apple’s perspective, however, this success has been marred by competitors ripping-off Apple’s industrial designs and other patents. For the uninitiated, what began as a dispute between business partners has morphed into a global intellectual property “mobilenuclear” war between mobile appliance titans. Kudos to ZDnet for presenting this timeline of the Apple/Samsung litigation.
What is striking about this all-out war is that Samsung was — and still is — a partner of Apple for specific components of Apple devices. In fact, Apple apparently acquired almost $8B in components from Samsung in 2011 alone (with about $11B projected for 2012)…so it didn’t take kindly to alleged copying of its designs and technology. According to testimony provided during the current trial in California, Apple’s director of patent licensing and strategy, Boris Tecksler, claimed that Apple warned Samsung not to copy the iPhone, and was “shocked” when Samsung rolled out mobile products allegedly doing so. Seems to me that these commercial ties are not easily broken (even though Apple seems to have been positioning itself to decrease its dependence on Samsung components), but the relationship with Samsung most definitely appears to be. From its perspective, Apple is drawing its lines in the sand because it simply must do so…even if that means an increasingly costly global wave of litigation.
The point I would like to make here, however, is not the unbelievable extent of this litigation worldwide between these two companies. Rather, it is that a company can never be too careful in protecting its intellectual property, especially when it comes to “trusted” partners – had Apple not taken the steps to procure the patents at issue, it would have lost significant footing (if not the foundation of its infringement claims) to leverage against Samsung. In an era of increasing globalization, designing and implementing an IP strategy for one’s business is essential. A consistent IP strategy laid the groundwork for Apple’s claims against Samsung…as well as for Samsung to assert its counterclaims against Apple and institute separate infringement suits against Apple worldwide. From the funded startup to an established business, such a strategy (or lack thereof) cannot be underestimated or overemphasized…both as a sword and as a shield. If your have any doubts, feel free to ask Apple or Samsung…;)
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