Intellectual Property, Technology, and the Law

The Shot Heard ‘Round the World: Apple vs. Samsung

Do you know the story of the “Shot Heard Round the World”? Most people think it’s Bobby Thompson’s home run that won the Giants the pennant in 1951. But it in fact refers to a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem called “Concord Hymn“:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

This shot referred to a shot fired in a confrontation between British soldiers and (soon to be) American citizens, and it quickly escalated the conflict into The Revolutionary War. (Which America won. Take that, Royal Wedding!)

Well, the first shot was fired two weeks ago, when Apple filed a lawsuit in the United States (Northern California District Court) against Samsung. Apparently, Samsung was probably expecting to get sued, because they filed retaliatory lawsuits in three different countries (South Korea, Japan and Germany). And just today, Samsung also filed a countersuit against Apple in the Northern California District Court. So lots of shots have been fired, and we’re only two weeks into this!

(And no, I am not annoyed that I was just about to publish a blog post discussing why Samsung didn’t file in the United States as well. Not annoyed at all. Because I just love thinking about something and researching it and writing about it and ultimately wasting my time. But just in case you were wondering the same thing, someone else did indeed devote some time to the subject.)

Will this lead to an all-out smartphone war? The smartphone has gone from cool luxury to nearly ubiquitous in a short period of time. The stakes are obviously very high. And I can’t wait to see how this all plays out. Why am I so fascinated? Let me count the ways…

  1. Most of us use smartphones and spend a remarkable amount of time interacting with them. We’re not talking about a lawsuit involving solid state memory or obscure software algorithms. The subject matter is something that we’re all familiar with, and I think a lot of people who ordinarily don’t give a crap about this stuff, will. The water cooler talk will be interesting. Non-lawyers and non-technocrats will be talking about this at parties and assorted soirees.
  2. Who are the combatants? It seems like it will eventually be Apple against the world, but right now, it’s Apple against Samsung. When does Apple sue someone else? Because let’s face it, a lot of the phones coming out certainly appear to be, at the very least, inspired by the paradigm blasting iPhone. HTC, Motorola (the company that arguably saved Android — check out this neat Wired article on the subject), who’s next? And when will Apple go after Android, if ever? Finally, what about other players, such as Microsoft with its new mobile operating system, Nokia and RIM with theirs, and whatever the heck HP is planning on doing with recently acquired Palm? It’s gonna be an all-out war! Hide yo kids, hide yo wife
  3. Samsung is a major supplier of components and parts to Apple. Awkward!
  4. Apple’s lawsuit wasn’t just a (utility) patent lawsuit. It also included other alleged violations of their intellectual property rights, including design patents, trademarks and trade dress. The trade dress claims will also be interesting, because I’ve seen a coworker’s Samsung phone, and it looks a whole lot like they practically copied Apple’s interface.
  5. The aforementioned international nature of this battle will also be compelling for how it plays out. The parties are likely to get some sort of judicial response from the other countries than the notoriously slow U.S. system. Samsung probably thinks they might get a more favorable audience back in Asia.
  6. Samsung and Apple are giants. There’s an old Swahili saying that I’ve always liked — when the elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets hurt. I’m not really sure how this applies, but let’s just say that I like spreading the saying and I will enjoy watching these two duke it out.

It’s easy to predict the next step — Apple will file countersuits in those three countries and might file more suits elsewhere. And then, the fun begins!

BTW, I should mention one really good blog covering this skirmish — FOSS Patents. Here are some of their recent relevant posts, which include a cool “battlemap.” Oh, and props to Mashable for calling it a “patent slap fight.”

Patent Slap 1

Patent Slap 2

Patent Slap 3

Copyright 2011, Pav S. Athwal. All Rights Reserved.


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