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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Apple's patent victory sets the stage for the new iPhone

Apple is expected to launch its new iPhone over the next few months and possibly as early as weeks away.
The Straits Times - August 29, 2012
By: Oo Gin Lee
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Apple's patent victory sets the stage for the new iPhone

Apple's historic US$1 billion (S$1.25 billion) patent win over Samsung in the United States last week came at a critical and significant time for the American company.

Apple is expected to launch its new iPhone over the next few months and possibly as early as weeks away. Suddenly, the future of its flagging smartphone market looks brighter.

The nine-man jury in the federal court had found that Samsung had infringed on a series of Apple's patents while dismissing Samsung's counter-claim that Apple, too, had infringed on the South Korean company's intellectual property.

Apple's legal triumph comes at a time when it is losing market share to Samsung. According to market research firm IDC, Samsung is now the global smartphone market leader with a 32.6 percent share, followed by Apple with 16.9 per cent.

The South Korean phone giant will no doubt appeal - all the way to the highest courts.

The more critical question is whether Apple will succeed in its application to ban the sales of Samsung smartphones in America, or what in legalese is called a permanent injunction. That hearing is scheduled to take place on Sept 20.

While US$1 billion is no small sum, it is money that Samsung can afford. A ban on sales, however, will be more damaging to Samsung. If Apple can get Samsung's phones outlawed while it launches its new iPhone 5, it could go a long way to getting Apple back on track.

Apple's billion-dollar victory has not gone down well with all consumers. While some see it as a deserving victory against "copycats", others say it is a setback for consumers who will now have fewer choices.

Interestingly, a similar suit in a South Korean court last week ended with the Seoul Central District Court ruling that the two phone giants had infringed each other's patents, awarding a net 15 million won (S$16,526) to Samsung - 40 million won minus Apple's 25 million won counter-claim.

The very different verdicts put the spotlight on the patent legal system, which critics say is far from perfect. The law of patents functions to protect innovation; to do that, it requires creators to file their patent claims early as proof.

Yet, having a patent granted for a claim is no guarantee of success in a lawsuit. The test, unfortunately, only comes at a point much later after the patent is awarded and when the strength of the patent claim is challenged in a court of law.

The usual way to challenge a patent is to argue that the patent itself is not original and that there were similar innovations before the patent was filed, a term that legal experts call prior art.

A second complication is that the court decisions of one country have no bearing on the jurisdiction of another. This means that companies have to enforce their claims in individual countries, which can be an extremely expensive exercise.

Fortunately for the local consumer, the Singapore market is just too small for Samsung or Apple to worry about.

Why bother to duke it out in a tiny island with just five million folks, when there are bigger fishes to fry?

And that can only mean that when the new iPhonelaunches, the very wired Singapore consumer will still have the full breadth of choices, including the very popular Samsung Galaxy S III, tons of other Android handsets from different brands and even a Nokia Windows phone.

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