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Apple sues Samsung for ‘copying’ mobile devices

by Scott Bicheno on 19 April 2011, 09:51

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

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Sour Apple

So high are the stakes in the great mobile Internet land-grab that the lawyers have been involved early and in force. There's already a tangled web of legal actions flying around involving most possible combinations of device-maker and platform developer.

Few people would deny the fact that Apple has been the primary innovator in the mobile device game, having defined both the modern smartphone and tablet. But far more debatable is whether, having set the precedent, Apple has the right to prevent other companies following its example.

That seems to be what has prompted Apple's latest legal broadside, this time aimed at Korean electronics giant Samsung. Among the many things Samsung makes are smartphones and tablets, mainly under the Galaxy brand. Apple reckons Samsung's mobile devices look far too much like its own.

"It's no coincidence that Samsung's latest products look a lot like the iPhone and iPad, from the shape of the hardware to the user interface and even the packaging," and Apple spokesperson told mobile-device.biz. "This kind of blatant copying is wrong, and we need to protect Apple's intellectual property when companies steal our ideas."

On one level this seems pretty frivolous. There is presumably an optimal form factor for any device, which is why most notebooks look pretty much the same. Surely Apple can't expect to be the only company allowed to produce products that are essentially a screen with circuitry and a battery inside a flat case.

But this case - announced on Friday at the Northern California District Court - takes on much more gravity when you look at the relationship between the two companies. Samsung makes a lot more than just mobile devices and a big part of its business is making components, many of which find their way into Apple mobile devices.

Market researcher iSuppli does a handy breakdown of the bill of materials of certain prominent devices, and always does one for new Apple gadgets. As you can see from the table below, while Apple has avoided using Samsung for the display in the iPad 2, it does use Samsung for Flash memory, the design and manufacture of the A5 SoC, and some screen controllers.



Samsung also supplies the chip, Flash and memory for the iPhone 4, and the two companies have clearly had a close relationship for some time.

We haven't been able to view the court filing itself yet, but All Things D has, and observes that Apple thinks Samsung has copied the design of its mobile devices, including things like a black border, rounded edges and the array of icons.

Once more this comes over as pretty frivolous, given that you presumably can't patent rounded edges and black plastic. As for the icon thing, that feels like a proxy attack at Android. Having said that, the Samsung Galaxy S does look quite a lot like the iPhone 3G, but then so do countless other smartphones made of black plastic with rounded edges.

Most technology companies could find the grounds to initiate patent legal action against their contemporaries at any time if they chose to, but often these things get resolved before the lawyers get involved via licensing deals and other reciprocal arrangements.

Our feeling is that these things get nasty when there's a broader competitive agenda being pursued, and you have to wonder why the likes of LG, which makes the displays for both the iPhone and iPad but also makes black mobile devices with rounded edges and a wall of square app icons, are currently exempt from Apple's patent outrage.


HEXUS Forums :: 19 Comments

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Simple answer here, Samsung stop supplying Apple. I'd love to see them scrabble around to get alternatives because Apple are just getting too bold, brassy and arsey because the sheep let them…
They will be suing my fruit basket soon because i took a bite out of an apple and put it back leaving a side profile which resembles an apple logo :rolleyes:

In all serious though, there is a definite ‘bite the hand that feeds you’ point… although apple could easily go to another supplier for their chips. I assume the market is quite competitive and its more beneficial for Samsung to have their chips in the ipad than to try and use it as a blackmail.
Apple are just sour that spec wise samsung hardware has nudged out apple hardware by fractions only days after apple release there new shiney toy so that they cant call the ipad 2 the thinnest or lightest 10" tablet with the best camera's etc.

Stand tough samsung just withold a minor part for now that forces them to halt production and redesign the boards.
Unless apple have other suppliers lined up and ready to go they could put themselves out of action for a few months if they suddenly run out of A5's
In the grand scheme of things Apple buy components from a Samsung Semiconductors company (or similar) and i'd bet that Samsung Mobile Communications probably buy them as a customer the same as Apple, just they have the same first name.

So Apple have a gripe with Samsung Mobile over the closeness of the physical design between the iPad/iPhone and the new Samsung gear.

In the end it's just foot stamping with free publicity for both parties, firing up the Apple fans to cry about Samsung copying, and the Samsung fans to whine about how Apple are being petty because Samsung devices are better and you can't copyright a shape, yada yada yada… in which both sides are falling for it, hook line and sinker.

The truth is any real disputes like this with companies so in bed with each other would all be resolved by men sat in wing-back leather chairs smoking cigars in some country club somewhere.
Apple are just sour that spec wise samsung hardware has nudged out apple hardware by fractions only days after apple release there new shiney toy so that they cant call the ipad 2 the thinnest or lightest 10" tablet with the best camera's etc.

The Samsung Galaxy 10.1 has better cameras, a better screen and is lighter but it is not thinner.

Marketing wise, they are limited…