Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Samsung infringement case a victory for Apple's design patents, Jobs

SAN FRANCISCO — Steve Jobs, famous for his view that a product's look and feel are just as important as how it works, was vindicated by a California court exactly one year after he stepped down as Apple's chief executive officer.

The verdict that Samsung infringed on six Apple patents included four covering design of mobile devices. Courts tend to give greater credence to utility patents on a product's underlying technology. Of the 359 patents listing Jobs — who died in October 2011 — as co-inventor, 86 percent are the design variety, according to MDB Capital Group.

"Given the infringement of the design patents, which protects the nonfunctional appearance of the iPad and iPhone, Apple now has considerable power to keep knockoff phones off the market," said Tim Holbrook, a professor at Emory University School of Law.

The ruling could prompt more technology companies to issue design patents and bring suits to protect them, said MDB chief executive Christopher Marlett. It also sets back Google, maker of the Android operating system on Samsung's phones.

"Because the use of an iPhone is so intuitive, competitors attempting to design around the patents will have a far more difficult time connecting with the needs and desires of consumers," Holbrook said. "Google's Android system may suffer as a result."

Jobs' patents cover the final design of many Apple products, including docks, chargers and even glass staircases found in many Apple stores.

Jurors in the case were swayed by internal emails describing how Google asked Samsung to change the design of its products to look less like Apple's, said jury foreman Velvin Hogan.

The trial showcased how design is taking on a more central role in the competitive consumer electronics market. Apple rose above rivals in the personal computing world of the 1970s in part because it was the first to package its device in an attractive enclosure with built-in display.

Jobs often bemoaned his competitors' lack of attention to design as Apple benefited.

"The only problem with Microsoft is that they just have no taste," he said in a 1996 interview. "I don't mean that in a small way; I mean that in a big way — in the sense that they don't think of original ideas, and they don't bring much culture into their products."

By early 2011, Jobs had decided to aggressively protect Apple's intellectual property. He told biographer Walter Isaacson that he would spend "every penny" to combat Google's software. "I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product," Jobs said. "I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this."

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