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Mixed fortunes for Apple’s lawyers

by Scott Bicheno on 23 June 2011, 10:32

Tags: Samsung (005935.KS), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)

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Confusing arguments

Even occasional readers will be aware of the sue-fest that is characterising the great mobile Internet land-grab. Every piece of ground established now will likely pay dividends for decades to come so the stakes, and lawyers' fees, are high.

While Apple was perceived to have ‘lost' its patent battle with Nokia, on the grounds that it had to pay up, in the long term it's probably money well spent to make peace with one of the biggest mobile patent holders. And in the more important battle for smartphone market share, Apple is emphatically winning.

Apple's bigger strategic aim seems to be to prevent everyone else from doing anything that even resembles its own mobile Internet activities. This has resulted in it focusing on Samsung, for making devices that look a bit like Apple ones, and Amazon for calling its app store, Appstore.

As we recently opined, Apple's case against Samsung seems weak. There's no denying the Samsung Galaxy family of devices bear a strong similarity to some Apple devices, but that's because they're black, rectangular, touchscreen devices with rounded edges. Surely nobody can be allowed ownership of an entire colour or shape.

FOSS Patents reported that Apple registered a small victory this week when a judge ruled that Apple doesn't have to reveal as yet unreleased products to Samsung in order to assist it in its defence. The grounds were fairly obvious - that Apple had only asked to see existing products, so Samsung's request was disproportionate.

But it's not all good news for Apple from this ruling. By choosing to allege infringement of only its current products, said the judge, Apple opens itself up to a counter-argument from Samsung that it doesn't compete directly with older versions of Apple devices, and that might be a consideration. This possibility potentially puts additional time pressure on Apple and could weaken its position in trying to force a settlement.


Court Order Denying Motion Re iPhone 5 iPad 3


The crux of Apple's argument lies in the concept of ‘consumer confusion', which seems to amount to the rather implausible notion that someone might buy a Samsung device thinking it's an Apple one. The consumer confusion argument is also being used to try to prevent other people using the term ‘App Store' and variations thereof.

Bloomberg is reporting that Apple will probably lose its bid to stop Amazon using Appstore, according to a federal judge. Apparently the lack of any real evidence of actual confusion is a stumbling block for Apple, and rightly so. Apple is maintaining that such confusion could damage its own App Store brand, as Amazon pays less attention to things like security.

There may be strong legal precedent for all this customer confusion stuff, but it really does seem tenuous, bordering on disingenuous. How can Apple point to the unique, intrinsic value of its own brand, and at the same time claim that anything which remotely resembles Apple products will confuse consumers?

Apple has probably the strongest brand in the world, and one it liberally splashes all over its products. Surely its clear to everyone what's an Apple product and what isn't. Apple should focus on further investing in its own brand, rather than trying to use flimsy legal arguments to prevent competition.


HEXUS Forums :: 10 Comments

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I doubt customers will get confused between an Apple and Samsung phone. One has an Apple logo on it and the other a big SAMSUNG written on it. On top of this a number of the Samsung Android phones have the word ANDROID written on the back of it.

Also,at least in the UK the Apple products usually are differentiated from the others in the product displays. Plus I would also expect the salesperson to confirm what choice of product you wanted. When they bring out the box to the till, the packaging will be different(one says iPhone and the other does not) and of course your receipt will tell you exactly what you got.

If you buy online it is even more obvious.

Despite this if you cannot tell the difference it means one of the following:
1.)You are daydreaming
2.)Sales person is a lying toad
3.)You couldn't be bothered what brand of phone you got,ie, a phone is just a phone
Well said, Scott. Hopefully the ‘App store’ claim will be ruled against soon and put that pile of stupid to rest.
i think what is worse is that Apple werent the first to use this design, credit where its due is that they took the design and somehow made it extremely popular but you cant really try and protect an idea thats already been done, heck even Samsung had an iphone like music player before the iphone so im confused how they can even have a chance.

Same as the app store, your just shortining application store which you shouldnt be able to “protect” thats like me saying, yeah im making a MOBO, now no one else can call it a mobo…. bad example but you get the idea :D.
You know it is an iphone by looking at the price tag
Despite these updates, apple may still be in with a chance - since they have just been granted yet another multi touch UI patent, and I presume that could have an impact here..since it's a pretty far reaching one (covers the use of a single finger to do one thing, and two to do something else - eg 1 finger to move a webpage around and 2 fingers to scroll). I wonder if they will look to bring this into the argument when the “consumer confusion” one is thrown out (as it should be!). I don't think that they have any case for saying users will be genuinely confused between a samsung device and an iPhone - even if the Homescreen UI in question is VERY similar and does look like an iOS rip off.

I still think they have a very good case with the “App Store” isse though, and I hope they win it (not a popular POV I know). There is a very clear opportunity for “consumer confusion” here, and the fact that they have had an established and widely recognised brand of “App Store” for years now (way before Amazon decided to copy them) should make this an easy choice for the judge. I would hope that the many thousands of legal precidents would make it a bit more open and shut than it appears to be.

Then again these issues are going through the American courts, to logic doesn't come into it.