In the past few years, patent lawsuits between competitors in the smartphone market have exploded. Apple’s new lawsuit against Samsung, made public today, shows that the company is willing to go beyond patents to hinder its competitors in the mobile device market.
Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is saying Samsung products infringe seven utility patents relating to software and hardware, as well as three design patents. But it’s also saying Samsung has violated Apple’s trademarks and “trade dress,” which is a more subjective claim that trademark owners can bring over the packaging and “look and feel” of their products. Accused products include the Galaxy tablet and smartphone products, as well as the Nexus S, the Continuum, and about a dozen other Samsung mobile products, all listed on pages 16 and 17 of the lawsuit (embedded below).
Why did Apple pack so much into this lawsuit? Quite simply, more claims will make it harder for Samsung to deal with. First of all, Samsung, like every other tech company, knows the proper response to a patent lawsuit: another patent lawsuit. Engaging in a similar tit-for-tat regarding trademark claims will be more difficult. It will also strain the belief of many in the public and the press, who recognize that Apple has been an innovator in design and may find it believable that Samsung was somewhat imitative in creating its smartphones.
Also, remember that while Apple has been waging patent war enthusiastically, in the few results we have seen so far, it isn’t doing that great.
What is Apple saying was copied, specifically? Take the Galaxy phone as an example. Both phones have “a rectangular product shape with all four corners uniformly rounded,” a screen surface with black borders, and “colorful square icons” with rounded corners. The accusations toward the packaging seem much more general: a rectangular box that has a picture of the product on the top, and “use of a design that cradles products to make them immediately visible upon opening.” If those are protectible elements of packaging, that could apply to a lot of products.
Apple has filed other lawsuits against companies that it believes are infringing its “softer” intellectual property, like design patents. But some of those have been against smaller accessory manufacturers, for example, and those cases didn’t get much press. Here, Apple is going after another huge tech company–and one that actually supplies it with LCDs and flash memory.
The fact that Apple has a wide-ranging business relationship with Samsung also means that analysts might have questions about this litigation in tomorrow’s earnings call; stay tuned to learn more.