Samsung and Apple are continuing to accuse each other of infringing their technology as they assert themselves in the smartphone sector. But the extent to which the legal shenanigans impact the respective market shares of the companies is debatable.

One would therefore be forgiven for thinking that the US jury decision in August that found Samsung guilty of infringing Apple design patents – and awarding US$1.05 billion in damages to the iPhone maker – would have drawn a line under the legal battles that have been going on for more than a year.

But no, the companies are continuing their attempts to discredit each other. Apple has filed a motion with the court that awarded its August victory, requesting a further US$707 million in damages. Meanwhile Samsung is demanding a new trial. The two companies are also continuing with legal proceedings in Germany and other markets.

Apple is clearly trying to limit the market share of Samsung, which has been the most successful company in popularising Android, with its Google-branded Nexus phones and Galaxy S line. In response, Samsung is attacking Apple as a way of defending its position.

Obviously intellectual property is incredibly important for technology companies in order for them to steal a march on rivals – and should be protected. But when the technology in question has become so widespread on the Samsung devices (whether rightly or wrongly), the value of that intellectual property has been diminished.

All Apple has really achieved is to gain the moral high ground over Samsung and US$1 billion in damages – an amount that is a drop in the ocean for such a cash-rich company and something that won’t cause a vendor of Samsung’s scale too many sleepless nights.

Things might change if Apple is able to secure a US sales ban for the Samsung products at issue but, as shown in Germany,
patent issues can easily be designed around – meaning an injunction is unlikely to have a lasting effect. In addition, the products involved will soon be obsolete as new devices emerge.

So far, the legal wranglings don’t appear to have harmed sales of Samsung smartphones – surely a major aim for Apple. Its latest Galaxy S3 Android smartphone has become the fastest-selling smartphone in the company’s history at 20 million and counting.

However, it seems Apple is having less success with its iPhone 5. Yes, five million units have found their way to customers in its first weekend of availability – one million more than the iPhone 4 – but this was largely because Apple had the devices ready to ship and launched the device in nine markets compared to the iPhone 4’s seven.

Sales have actually been below some industry forecasts, and in terms of units sold per day in each market analysis by Asymco has found that the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4 have sold at pretty much the same rate, suggesting the increase in demand for new Apple products could be slowing. It should be noted that supplies of the iPhone 5 constrained shipments to an extent, but the initial figures are nevertheless less impressive than they might first seem.

There is also a sense that Apple could have done more with the latest-generation iPhone to distinguish it from its predecessor. Yes it has a faster processor, LTE capability and an extra row of apps on its homescreen but it doesn’t exactly push the boundaries in terms of design. And the new Apple Maps is a mess.

The iPhone 4 was a significant step forwards compared to the 3GS in terms of design and functionality, and the iPhone 5 simply isn’t.
Apple CEO Tim Cook is clearly an excellent organiser but the wow factor of launches under Steve Jobs is now absent. Excitement about what Apple would deliver with the iPhone 5 was significant but the device disappointed.

In contrast, Samsung’s Galaxy S3 is a significant step up from the S2, adding the S Voice speech recognition technology, face detection and, unlike the iPhone 5, NFC – all of which have contributed to impressive sales.

Ironically, it seems that Apple’s relentless chasing of Samsung for pay up for infringing design patents has actually prompted its rival to innovate while it has taken its eye off the ball.

The company needs to return its focus to design excellence and not be distracted by drawn-out and increasingly pointless legal feuds with rivals. Samsung will have learned its lesson and is unlikely to repeat the same mistake and Apple has come out on top, so why continue to have the distraction?

Design was what made Apple into the world beating company it is today and instead of trying to stop others copying its old ideas, it should focus on new ones that will push the company’s products ahead of the competition.

Tim Ferguson

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members