The innovation argument

One of the popular arguments making its way around the Internet since Apple won its patent infringement lawsuit over Samsung is that the verdict will stifle innovation in the mobile industry. I don’t buy it.

Even Samsung used the argument in its statement addressing the loss. “It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices.” That’s just silly.

What Apple’s win prohibits Samsung, and others, from doing is blatantly copying Apple’s design. There is nothing in the ruling that says Samsung can’t continue to innovate. There is nothing that says Samsung can’t release as many phones as they do now or that they have to charge more.

Samsung is using this as a scare tactic, pure and simple. The truth is, if Samsung hadn’t copied Apple and innovated all along, they wouldn’t be in this mess.

In fact, this decision should lead to more innovation, not less. If Samsung is forced to stop copying Apple, there is only one option left — innovate. Instead of sitting back and making their phones and tablets look exactly like the iPhone and iPad, Samsung will now have to do some work. The hardware and software will have to be different, unique and innovative.

The harsh truth is innovation costs money. If Samsung has to raise prices because of that, then so be it. That’s their decision to make, not Apple’s and not the court.

It’s easy and cheap to steal and not improve on someone else’s ideas, but it’s a different story when you have to pay for research and development to create a unique product.

  • JokaFunk

    They could have simply paid for the patent usage….

  • Well said, either innovate, or if not, license from those who do. Samsung had 2 options, one the hard way out, one the easy way out

  • Lukas

    “What Apple’s win prohibits Samsung, and others, from doing is blatantly copying Apple’s design.”

    This is factually wrong. The patents Apple used against Samsung included utility patents that cover things like pinch-to-zoom, twist-to-rotate, the ability to distinguish between a single-touch scroll gesture and a multi-touch zoom gesture, and double-tap to zoom (note that Apple didn’t “innovate” many of these gestures; they just own the patents).

    You do not need to “blatantly copy Apple’s design” to violate these patents.

    If Apple had only brought up design patents in this lawsuit, I wouldn’t have a problem with the verdict. Apple is absolutely right in going after companies that imitate its products such that consumers are confused. That, however, is only part of what Apple has done. They have also enforced basic utility patents that pretty much every multitouch device violates.

    And this is exactly why this is bad for innovation. New startups already have huge problems entering these markets. No investor will invest in a company that creates new touchscreen cell phones, because all of these patents have created a huge minefield where every idea you have could potentially destroy your company, because somebody had it before you, and has a patent on it. This verdict makes this whole situation even worse.

    Again, I don’t have a problem with design patents. I also don’t have a problem with trademarks. If Apple had gone after Samsung for copying its products, that would be absolutely fine with me.

    Going after them with utility patents, however, is bad for everybody involved, from customers to startups to small companies to large companies.

    Unfortunately, the companies that tend to be most innovative (i.e. smaller ones) are the ones that suffer the most. They can’t avoid violating these patents, because so much is patented. And unlike Samsung, they can’t defend themselves if they’re sued, because they can’t afford large defensive patent portfolios, or lawsuits that last for years.

    • Steven Fisher

      None of that affects innovation, only Samsung’s “innovation.”

      • Lukas

        Every multitouch cell phone available today violates at least some of these patents. Every last one. This doesn’t just affect Samsung.

        • Steven Fisher

          Which, again, doesn’t affect innovation only “innovation.”

          Innovation means change. It means better. It doesn’t not mean “the same.”

        • Jschmoe

          And though Apple may have not invented all those multi-touch concepts, they did buy the company that did. So they own the patents fair and square (and the inventors got paid a fair price for that privilege). I was honestly astounded when Android came out with multi-touch at all and have been surprised by how long this comeuppance has been in the making, personally. I will be further astounded if this doesn’t end up affecting all Android OEMs, as it should. You can argue whether the patents should have been granted, but once they were, how did all these companies think they could get away with blatantly violating them?

        • Ok, so the fact that everybody is copying it makes it right? Then let’s get everybody involved in pirating music and movies, that’ll make it right…the more people break a law the better, right?

          “everybody is doing it” is the stupidest excuse I used as a teenager when I arrived home drunk for the first (and last) time…it still is the stupidest excuse in the books.

    • The results of the trial are about Apple’s patents inside a context.

      If Apple could sue every single use of “pinch to zoom” in other devices they would probably do it to force other companies out of the market.

      Apple won not because Samsung used “pinch to zoom” or “twitst to rotate”. Apple won because Samsung copied almost everything exactly as it was.

      • Lukas

        Samsung was found guilty of infringing on these utility patents. Apple could absolutely use these patents to go after other companies.

        • Now that I researched it, none of the patents involved pinch to zoom or twist to rotate.

    • Who did innovate those multitouch gestures? I can’t recall using or even seeing such gestures in usage prior to the introduction of the iPhone. I could be wrong, but before you claim Apple didn’t innovate any of this stuff, it would be great to have examples of it prior to the iPhone.

      • Rhealist

        Kip, you obviously don’t watch a lot of science-fiction movies. Those concepts have been around for a long time, so it’s a little absurd for a single company to now claim they own them.

        • Lol. He must not have followed the trial or he would have seen prior art.

  • ‘They could have simply paid for the patent usage’..

    Those patents simply should not have been granted, and especially not to Apple, who invented zilch of those patents. I agree with Lukas: Apple is abusing the patent system to the extent that innovation is indeed stifled. Silly patents based on prior art have nothing to do with intellectual property, and everything with plain and ugly patent trolling.

    • Apple is abusing the patent system to the extent that innovation is indeed stifled.

      Pure, unadulterated bullsh!t. Please find any OS GUI, mobile or otherwise, that was purely touch driven and as such had the feedback and response algorithms of iOS.

      This “prior art” claim has been tossed around extensively during the Apple vs Samsung lawsuit, and I’m willing to bet almost no one can name an instance of “prior art” that would invalidate Apple’s patent claims on an OS model that was for all intents and purposes non-existent until Apple made it the standard for mobile.

  • Juz

    I understand the concern over “utility patents” (although pinch to zoom was surely an Apple innovation?), but Samsung still got themselves in the poop here by choice. If they had brought out a vastly innovative/diferent touchscreen phone, I don’t believe Apple would have gone after them on the multitouch/utility stuff.

    It’s because they copied so much as well as that feature, including trade dress/look and feel, cables, even packaging etc that they earned the ire of Apple. And rightfully so. All things in moderation.

    • Ahmed Sayed

      Really? o.o Packaging? I’m sure i didn’t buy my Gs3 for the packaging or the double-tap to zoom,stretch to zoom in, pinch to zoom out and the bounce-back effect. And i actually was suprised that i saw on the internet that samsung copies apple’s designs. I never confused samsung’s products for apple’s so this kind of makes me wonder about how people are quite delusioned about apple.

      Japan Court : Apple and Samsung both had to pay each other legal costs U.K Court : Apple was ordered to put a disclaimer on it’s website that samsung didn’t steal iPad’s design U.S Court : Apple won 1b out of samsung. I agree that samsung might have done it on purpose but why is it when apple copies or steals it’s innovation. But Other companies do it’s being a copy cat.

      You guys know that Jury got to a decison of the 1b after only 1 day of deliberation because apple-friendly, biased, fail of a judge, Velvin Hogan. Velvin Hogan worked for Seagate but was filed for a reason i don’t remember hehe, i think for being bankrupt. Anyway, Seagate has a strategic relationship with samsung and he obviously hates samsung. He’s a patent holder himself so he guided the rest of the jurors through the case but after 1 day?? Nine jurors stated that they didn’t have enough time to read the instructions. The Patent system is supposed to compensate the patent holder not punish the infringer. He should’ve ruled based on the law not his own experience.

      • Ahmed Sayed

        Sorry, about the typo mistakes D;

  • deviladv

    Jim, I’d love to hear on one of your podcasts a debate about this topic with someone on the other side (or how about a group of people? Marco, Siracusa and Inhatko along with you on one special podcast… OMG the mother of all 5by5 podcasts, Ben get on it!! :)). I think the community really needs something like this and we should be drilling into the details of what innovation is. I personally am an Apple fan but I also don’t entirely agree with what you said, in that you said it yourself: “Instead of sitting back and making their phones and tablets look exactly like the iPhone and iPad, Samsung will now have to do some work.” They have to work harder. There is no doubt this will change the industry and make innovation harder. You answered the question “Is it right or wrong for Samsung to do this” but you didn’t address “will this stifle innovation?” If you have to work harder, you are stifling innovation, because innovation is about taking older ideas and mixing and matching and coming up with new ideas. The pool of ideas that is “legal” to use is now limited.

    Sometimes innovation is a slow hard slog of making iterative changes to something until you get to a sweet spot. And if no one copied Apple at all, would we live in a world where the only choice was Apple and then Apple stopped making new things? Where would notification center be? Would Apple be getting NFC in a month?

    I think the main difference in a question like this is to separate out the parts of “should Apple be paid for it’s groundbreaking designs” from “is it true that innovation will be lessened by this decision.” The latter should not be contestable.

    • Steven Fisher

      It wouldn’t be worth my time to listen. I am so tired of ignorance and thin edge of the wedge arguments. This is what’s before us today. Talk about it, not bullshit paranoia.

      And no, it isn’t not contestable. Look up the definition of the word innovation. Clearly, innovation is never stifled by patents.

      • deviladv

        Never stifle innovation? Please, lay out the case for why software patents never stifle innovation. Or perhaps you would want to refine that statement? Or lay out your business card, Mr. “I must work for a patent troll.”

        I wasn’t talking about Software patents, but if you are going to lay out such broad terms, well then you opened the door to have your argument torn to shreds.

        • Steven Fisher

          Nuisance patent suits absolutely cause problems, but those problems are not a problem in innovation. A dictionary would be really handy to you right now; I suggest (for a second time) that you look up “innovation” in it.

          • deviladv

            I said my peace, and I know what the definition of innovation is. Your argument is overly simplified and you haven’t supported it at all, you basically disagree and chose to try to insult me instead. Make your case with logic instead.

        • apple copied everybody, apple cannot compete it is over for apple. samsung has created cell phones forever. apple should have signed on w/ samsung. apples cheap phones break and short out and the front cracks ,samsung has created gorrilla skin fronts that NEVER BREAK OR WEAR OUT, AND TRIPLED BATTERY LIFE AND MADE A BIGGER SCREEN. APPLE WASN’T EVEN IN THE CELL PHONE BUSINESS UNTIL JUST VERY VERY RECENTLY. SAMSUNG HAS WAY MORE PATENTS THAN ANYBODY EXCEPT IBM. QUIT USING JEWISH LAWYERS FOR CRIB FIGHTS AND GROW UP APPLE BE A MAN FIGHT ON THE STREET NOT IN YOUR RIGGED KANGAROO COURT ROOM.

  • Ncav8tor

    Agreed! Samsung is free to innovate at any moment, however, that is the one thing we have yet to see from ANY of their products relating to a phone or tablet.

  • You never know, Mr. D. Samsung could decide to turn its knockoff artists towards Surface and Metro.

  • Ochyming

    By innovation they are thinking cheap.

    When those people think of apple they think high prices. Those Asian companies know how to win Westerns mind – cheap goods.

  • Buckeyestar

    The only way I see this resulting in higher prices might be because Samesung will have to actually have to spend money on R&D rather than Xerox machines.

  • Werner Strydom

    We have to deal with the fact that almost everything seems to be patented in software. If you can’t innovate yourself out of it, you either have to pay the license fees or deal with the patents in court. Innovation at IBM and Microsoft hasn’t halted because other folks own patents. Samsung should know better.

    Those that blame Apple for the action they have taken should redirect their anger/frustration towards a patent system, which is in desperate need of reform. It is the patent system which stifles innovation, not the company that owns the patents.

  • Jason Parry

    they also say that if they license it will make their phones $20 more… no one is going to pay $20 MORE for a samsung so they will just have to make their prices competitive, they will just make $20 less, but they are getting a great UI – just now they have to pay for it not steal it.

  • Adam

    Surely there is something between “slavishly copying” and full-on “innovating” that should still be fair ground. I think that’s what people are concerned about here. It seems like Apple’s success in this court case could end up stifling that middle ground.

  • Adriano Geletes

    Who gives a shit what a bunch of brainless people think!? People denying Samscum didn’t copy and steal from Apple in a very blatantly way, are the ones who really stop companies from innovating and pushing technique behind borders!

    Samscums and their idiot fans – who gives a shit!

    I wanna now, where Apple is going to?! What are they planning for the future with their hole iOS ecosystem? Are they going to spend the 1B for a total new design of iTunes, iBooksAuthor, xCode and better improvements in UI and usability? I HOPE SO! They changing every year some of their hardware designs without improving their software designs! When I look to the all new designed Retina MacBook Pro or some of the rumored iPad Air or new iPhone pictures, software like iTunes, the App Store, System Preferences, Finder, Mail, Address Book, iBooks Author, xCode really sucks: in questions of UI, usability and the hole click-touch experience!

    I’ve tried iBooksAuthor and it is not bad the first day, but when you really want to go behind borders, it really isn’t a finished tool for authors. I don’t give a shit about Phandroid and and eveything that comes with it, I don’t care about Win7/8, the only comparison that I do is within Apple: Does the software stay on the same level as the hardware? It depends on. But if I take a very close look to the iPhone4/4S hardware design (which by the way is 2 years “old”), iOS is too many steps behind (and I am not talking about these idiot arguments like Flash or widgets!!! Who ever wanted flash????). I want the software to be nice and beautiful, productive and just perfect as their hardware, I want them both to be on a same level and I hope Apple is going to be investing in this area to keep their goal: Making the best products in the world (software and hardware)! For now, they are more hardware enthusiasts than software lovers!

    P.S. While I was writing this essay, I took a few close looks to the new iPad and it’s magical. I really don’t believe it. It’s one of the most beautiful things I hold in my hands – ever (thats what she said!). But seriously: I’ve tried iOS 6 and I am disappointed a bit, take a look a the podcast icon design: who the hell designed that? And then compare these things to their hardware, that runs these things!

  • Agreed. I look forward to how Samsung responds in there tech.


  • zbig666

    Apple took 5 years to come up with the iPhone. Samsung took 3 months to turn their phone into an iPhone-lookalike.

    Apple looked at current phones and wondered, “I wish phones worked better–how can I make it better?” Samsung looked at the iPhone and said, “This is a better phone, I’ll copy it.”

    As for ‘pinch-to-zoom’, bounceback, double-tap to zoom/unzoom, as an actually creative individual, I can actually think of ways to do things better, i.e., innovate, instead of putting my hands up in the air and saying, “I give up, this is the only way to do things and Apple has patented it.” That’s just a sign of a lack of creativity.