Apple and Samsung are going head-to-head this week in a high-stakes patent case that could have far-reaching implications throughout the industry. At the heart of the legal battle between the two smartphone makers is Apple's contention that Google's Android operating system, which runs on Samsung phones, illegally copies software and design features from the iPhone and iPad. The late Apple visionary Steve Jobs famously vowed to destroy Android for allegedly ripping of the iPhone's design and interface, and said he was willing to spend "every last penny" in a "thermonuclear war" against Google. Here, an abridged guide to what's been dubbed "the patent trial of the century":
What does Apple want?
The iPhone maker is seeking more than $2.5 billion in damages for alleged patent violations, and wants to prove in a federal court in California that the evolution of the South Korean electronics manufacturer's own smartphones was "no accident," as the company states in its court brief. "Rather, it results from Samsung's deliberate plan to free-ride on the iPhone's and iPad's extraordinary success by copying their iconic designs and intuitive user interface." (See side-by-side comparisons of the phones here.) Apple plans to argue that Samsung's mobile devices changed abruptly after the original iPhone debuted in 2007, and hopes that a victory in the courtroom will block the sale of Android phones and tablets that infringe on iPhone patents.
What is Samsung's defense?
Samsung plans to show at least 10 iPhone-like designs that were already simmering in its labs prior to the iPhone's release. Samsung also contends that "Apple seeks to stifle legitimate competition and limit consumer choice to maintain its historically exorbitant profits." Samsung is also filing countercharges, claiming that Apple allegedly infringed on the South Korean company's patents relating to how phones utilize photos and music.
Does Apple really want to take down Samsung — or Google?
Many tech-world insiders believe it's the latter, as phones and tablets (like Samsung's) that run on Google's Android operating system are outpacing the iPhone in sales. Indeed, Google is the "elephant in the room," says Jessica E. Vascellaro at The Wall Street Journal. But patent lawyers say it's easier to make a case for monetary damages against hardware manufacturers, as there's ample evidence that Samsung profited off phones and tablets that allegedly ripped off the iPhone's key features. Google, on the other hand, is harder to sue because it gets most of its revenue from online ads and partnership deals — not from the phones themselves.
What happens if Apple wins?
The International Trade Commission could potentially block the sale of many Android products. And if the judge finds that Samsung's alleged violations were willful — meaning that the company deliberately copied Apple's designs — the total damages could easily triple to more than $7 billion.
What if Samsung wins?
"A loss for Apple, conversely, could sustain the spread of competition that has made Android the No. 1 smartphone operating system," says The Wall Street Journal's Vascellaro. There's also a chance that Apple and Samsung will both "finally come to their senses" and settle before the jury gets a chance to deliberate, says Matt Macari at The Verge. "With so much at stake, and so many issues on the table, there's no doubt this is going to be a crazy, whirlwind trial."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Chuck Hagel was a huge mistake
- 5 quick things you can do today to boost your creativity
- Want to eliminate the scourge of frat culture? Lower the drinking age.
- Yes, the Obama administration's green loans are unprofitable. They should be.
- What would it take for humans to build a settlement on Mars?
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Why we gossip, according to science
Subscribe to the Week