Oh, the irony! iPhone 6 copies the Nexus 4

Could the famously litigious Apple get a taste of its own medicine? Maybe it’s time to stop excessive patent litigation.

nexusiphone William Theaker (Samsung Galaxy Nexus); Apple (iPhone 6)

Apple’s iPhone 6 has been met with effusive praise from the tech press and long lines wherever it is sold.

But many in the tech industry are accusing Apple of copying many features found in Android phones and the operating system they run. There is an irony here, since Apple is one of the most aggressive patent lawsuit filers in the world and has famously been at war with Samsung, charging that its Android phones have closely copied features of earlier iPhones.

In one example of the iPhone 6 backlash, Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica Reviews recently told The Huffington Post, “A lot of iOS 8 features were on Android first, and bigger iPhones are a validation of the direction Samsung and the other Android OEMs have been pushing things. Android copied Apple a lot in the early days, but now it seems like the pendulum is swinging in the other direction." 

Amadeo has a point. The iPhone 6 looks a lot like the Nexus 4, an Android phone that came out way back in 2012 with a 4.7-inch screen, 760p resolution, notification action widgets, third-party keyboards, cross-app communication, cloud photo backup and battery stats — all to be found on the iPhone 6. What’s more, Apple has just been awarded a new patent for adding moving radial menus to both Macs and iOS devices. According to Cult of Mac, this feature is reminiscent of a feature introduced way back in 2011 by — you guessed it — Samsung. It’s hardly surprising that smartphones would have similar features, and this wouldn’t be worth writing about except for that central irony — the fact that Apple has been locked in an epic legal rivalry with Samsung for the better part of the last decade over exactly this type of copycat design.

Apparently, Apple’s view is that when Samsung does it, it’s patent infringement, but when Apple does it, it’s giving customers what they want.  

The legal feud began when Apple sued and was awarded a $929 million jury verdict in a patent case that claimed that Samsung infringed several of Apple’s design patents in Samsung smartphones and graphical icons. Apple famously argued that the Samsung devices resembled the rounded rectangular shape of Apple’s iPhone. Samsung was ordered to pay Apple all of the profits from its products that contained those designs even though Apple never showed that the design patents in question drove sales of Samsung devices.

Apple and Samsung recently called off their 40 separate patent cases in courts outside of the U.S., indicating that both parties are trying to wind down this bitter legal rivalry. But the two companies are still battling over that nearly $1 billion verdict.

Apple’s penchant for aggressively pursuing litigation and excessive claims of financial damage against competitors is emblematic of a bigger problem in the tech space. According to The New York Times, as much as $20 billion was spent on patent litigation and patent purchases in the last two years. Putting that amount in perspective, that is an amount equal to eight Mars rover missions. Last year, for the first time, spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and unusually big-dollar patent purchases exceeded spending on research and development of new products, according to public filings. 

Which brings us back to the obvious similarities between the iPhone 6 and Nexus 4. Apple has every right to defend its intellectual property, but to turn around and do exactly what it has accused Samsung of doing is almost comical. 

Kristian Ramos is a political strategist living in Washington, D.C. He has worked in the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, the think tank NDN, and the League of United Latin American Citizens. Follow him at @kramos1841.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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