It is impossible to underestimate the impact of the nine jurors in the Apple-Samsung patent lawsuit. These individuals have provided government/legal approval for what will possibly be an Apple-dominated smartphone ecosystem (at least in the US) for years to come. With the pending release of the iPhone5, possible reluctance by mobile carriers to promote/sell Android devices (do they want to get sued too?) and concern by developers over the long-term viability of the Android marketplace (Apple will NEVER license their patents to Android/Google partners), Apple is looking very good. Samsung’s “win” in the Tablet patent battle is a hollow victory, given their low market share.
For IT historians, this verdict stands in sharp contrast to the government-driven breakup of Microsoft’s PC/browser dominance in the late 1990’s. With 2020 hindsight maybe the folks in Redmond should have spent more time getting patents and building support with the Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) in the Department of Commerce, versus their years of litigation in the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice? The current and future role of the PTO in such a rapidly changing IT world, when the federal government is under heavy pressure to reduce spending , is best left for another blog posting.
Some IT Conspiracy theorists have wondered if this is really a ploy by Google to prop up its Motorola hardware business unit, at the expense of third-party hardware partners like Samsung? Google spent $12 Billion to buy Motorola for its patents, not because of its money-losing hardware business, and (the thinking goes) these patents would have enabled Samsung to win the case. Google then says something like this, “Motorola is the only smartphone manufacturer with the intellectual property assets to successfully compete against Apple. Motorola is run independently of Google and their management has asked Google to devote all of our Android resources towards Motorola, to stop an Apple smartphone monopoly. After careful deliberation we have reached the same conclusion. Google must do whatever is takes to provide consumers with choice in the smartphone marketplace. When things stabilize then we will consider licensing Motorola patents to others hardware vendors.” I just can’t imagine this ever occurring but it makes for interesting cocktail party conversation.
Lastly, this verdict does create an opening for both RIM and Microsoft. BlackBerry and Windows Phone are different and well-regarded products that won’t conflict with Apple patents. Their problem exists not in the courtroom but in the stores of Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. No one is buying! So how can you change that? I would reiterate my two recommendations to Steve Ballmer. First acquire RIM to stabilize BlackBerry sales, then bundle the BES functionality in Exchange. Second, give away every Windows Phone, with the requirement that every user is limited to Bing mobile search for the next year. Let’s see what happens…