Apple vs. Samsung: Hold the phone -- it ain't over yet

Apple-Samsung Verdict

Reading all the news about the Apple-Samsung trial verdict, it's hard not to feel like the world as we know it has just changed forever.

By now you've probably heard that a California jury came back with a sweeping win for Apple in the company's ongoing battle against Samsung. The jury found Samsung guilty of willfully infringing on Apple's patents on a massive number of counts, effectively saying it copied Apple's designs and features on dozens of mobile devices.

Money aside -- the jury said Samsung should pay $1.05 billion to Apple as a result of the finding -- the big question on everyone's mind is what this all will mean for Samsung, Android, and the larger mobile world. Countless blogs and websites are weighing in, predicting everything from the end of Samsung's sales dominance to a radical change in how manufacturers approach Android. Some are even saying the move will help Microsoft's Windows Phone get the love and attention it so desperately desires.

Here's the truth, though: The verdict may be in, but the Apple-Samsung battle is anything but over -- and at this point, no one really knows how it'll all shake out.

Apple vs. Samsung: Reading between the lines

Hey, I get it: Knee-jerk doom-and-gloom reaction is inevitable, particularly following a high-profile and emotional trial like this. But take a deep breath, folks. Let's look at this rationally.

Apple vs. Samsung

First and foremost, remember that the jury's finding is not the final word. On September 20, Apple and Samsung will come back together for a hearing at which the judge will consider the verdict and prepare to make a ruling of her own. Samsung has made it clear that it intends to appeal the verdict to this judge and -- if necessary -- beyond. The words "Supreme Court" have been uttered more than a few times, and the notion of a case like this reaching that high isn't inconceivable.

How feasible is it that the verdict could be overturned? Well, I'm certainly no lawyer -- I don't even play one on TV -- but the website Groklaw has put together a fascinating list of issues that could bring the validity of the jury's finding into question. I'd highly recommend reading through it yourself.

A few high points:

• The foreman of the Apple-Samsung jury has gone on the record as saying the jury reached its decision without following the court's instructions. He has also told reporters he wanted to "make sure the message [the jury] sent was not just a slap on the wrist" but rather "sufficiently high to be painful." That's a stark contrast to the actual court instructions, which state that the "damages award should put the patent holder in approximately the financial position it would have been in had the infringement not occurred" and that it is "meant to compensate the patent holder and not to punish an infringer."

• Another juror reportedly told the media the group decided after the first day of deliberations that it believed Samsung was in the wrong. Yes, after the first day. His description of how the jury reached its decision suggests the foreman -- who apparently holds one random patent himself -- used his own limited experience in the area to interpret the evidence for them and help the group get through the questions the way he saw fit.

In his interview with CNET, the juror is quoted as saying:

[The foreman] owned patents himself ... so he took us through his experience. After that it was easier. ... We debated that first patent -- what was prior art -- because we had a hard time believing there was no prior art. In fact we skipped that one, so we could go on faster. It was bogging us down.

He further details the way the jury got through such a daunting amount of detail in such a short period of time:

Once you determine that Samsung violated the patents, it's easy to just go down those different [Samsung] products because it was all the same. Like the trade dress, once you determine Samsung violated the trade dress, the flatscreen with the bezel ... then you go down the products to see if it had a bezel.

In an interview with Bloomberg, meanwhile, the foreman himself says he relied on his own patent experience and how he thought it might apply to the case:

"When I got in this case and I started looking at these patents I considered: ‘If this was my patent and I was accused, could I defend it?" Hogan explained. On the night of Aug. 22, after closing arguments, "a light bulb went on in my head," he said. "I thought, I need to do this for all of them."

Ouch. Add into all of that the fact that the jury's original verdict had some serious inconsistencies -- the group awarded damages for two devices that it didn't find to infringe on Apple's products and ended up having to adjust its total by $2.5 million once those discrepancies were discovered -- and it's easy to see how the validity of its entire verdict could be contested.

Apple vs. Samsung: The bigger picture

Depending on how things go and how high the case escalates, it could be weeks, months, or even years before it's over. And that means it's far too soon to speculate about how any of this will or won't affect Samsung and the broader Android ecosystem. All the predictions out there right now are just that -- predictions. They're pure speculation and nothing more.

Google itself issued the following statement to the media today:

The court of appeals will review both infringement and the validity of the patent claims. Most of these don't relate to the core Android operating system, and several are being re-examined by the US Patent Office. The mobile industry is moving fast and all players -- including newcomers -- are building upon ideas that have been around for decades. We work with our partners to give consumers innovative and affordable products, and we don't want anything to limit that.

The one good thing that could come from this money- and time-wasting mess? It's bringing an awful lot of attention to just how absurd the U.S. patent system really is. Apple "owns" the concepts of minor UI interactions? It alone possesses the right to "determine when a user is using one finger to scroll versus two or more fingers to zoom"? The list of silly-sounding claims goes on and on, but you get the point: The trial is bringing a renewed focus to the need for a major overhaul to our current patent system, and that's something we can all celebrate.

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In the meantime, though, life goes on, and it's back to the game of wait-and-see. Call it tense, call it tedious, or call it troublesome. Just don't call it magical -- I hear Apple's got a patent on that.

[Android vs. Apple artwork by Vu Viet Anh (RougeCrown); used with the artist's permission.]

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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