Apple v. Samsung: Invention, not litigation, will define the Post-PC planet

Color me confused. A scant few days since Japan's courts found Samsung guilty of patent infringement against Apple [AAPL] with older Galaxy devices, the courts seem to have reversed their decision, to applause from Samsung's fans and a series of confused mewlings from those in Cupertino's corner.

Litigation let down

It's just too confusing.

Last week a court in Tokyo told us Samsung did infringe upon Apple's bounce-back patent. This morning the Tokyo Intellectual Property High Court ruled the patent to be invalid, itself negating Apple's previous victory.

There's been a series of achievements and setbacks during the legal battles between Apple and Samsung worldwide, creating huge confusion when attempting to decide if the Korean firm was indeed imitative when it came to bringing its first Galaxy devices to market.

Apple clearly believes it has an argument. It has consistently attempted to represent a case that its biggest foe has borrowed from its successful iPhone in the creation of Galaxy devices. The company's attempt to prevail in this argument hasn't been consistently successful, though it has achieved success sufficient to suggest its overall position may have merit.

If nothing else, the global litigations have demonstrated the patent system to be fragmented. It has also illustrated the problems any big brand business may face in the event another firm chooses to infringe its patents: Judgements are inconsistent; the patent system isn't yet harmonized; a decision in one court isn't necessarily followed by that in another -- even within the same country.

These inconsistencies also make reporting of the litigation between these firms challenging to accomplish -- what truth can be discerned from the opaquely indistinct tapestry of legal outcomes?

No conclusions

One truth seems clear: Apple's attempt at thermonuclear attack on the Android collective hasn't achieved the singular victory the company may have hoped for. While it has managed to polarize opinion on the inventive zeal, or the lack of it, shown by all those at the smartphone party, it doesn't appear to have dented or detoured its competitors in any significant sense.

That's not to say Apple is completely at fault in its attempt. Senior executives have clearly felt justified in their actions, as they explained to the US court last year. They argue that they attempted to reach some form of agreement with Samsung, which that company failed to cede to.

This has been widely characterized as meaning Apple threw the first legal punch, though that's a gross oversimplification of the situation faced by a company that attempted to negotiate some kind of settlement before it began any such action.

Samsung's response has also been questionable. It's decision to attempt to combat Cupertino through its control of FRAND-related patents will have a chilling effect on the industry and has left the company exposed to litigation on behalf of antitrust authorities in Europe with punitive fines of up to $17.3 billion being discussed for its actions in this regard.

Rounded corners, optional

In a sense, the chapter of litigation has been a footnote to an evolutionary moment within the personal technology landscape that by its existence represents the huge importance of the fast migration to a Post-PC landscape.

The future evolution of connected devices will drive smartphones (and eventually tablets) into a place as commodified objects. Fresh invention in hardware and software design will drive this industry in future, with Apple hoping to stake a place in that future field through iOS7 and next-gen mobile devices -- that's not the end of the story, but a chapter mark toward fresh device evolutions.

Devices will become increasingly transparent and ubiquitous. Gadgets such as Google Glass and the rumoured iWatch are just hints of where things are going, as the technology ecosystem becomes one characterized by always on families of connected device capable of transforming communication across the planet in myriad ways, some known, some not yet invented yet.

The onus is now on those firms that claim the mantle of invention to identify and address the constellation of solutions that will define the future of the post-PC age. A future in which rounded corners are optional, but standards are essential.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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