Recent Developments in the Smartphone Wars

By: Scott Kanalakis

The so-called “smartphone wars” have been raging since at least 2009, perhaps beginning with Nokia’s lawsuit against Apple for patent infringement over the iPhone. Since then, many disputes among intellectual property holders in the mobile device market have been litigated in U.S. and foreign courts and tribunals, including most notably Apple v. Samsung. The collection of Apple v. Samsung cases began in 2011 with Apple suing Samsung in U.S. district court for infringement of numerous patents and other intellectual property rights over Samsung’s popular “Galaxy” brand of mobile phones and tablets. Samsung, in turn, countersued Apple with its own patents, and brought several new lawsuits and administrative actions against Apple in the U.S. and abroad.

Last year, a U.S. jury found Samsung liable for willfully infringing certain of Apple’s patents and other rights, and awarded Apple $1.049 Billion in damages. At a recent post trial hearing, the Court ruled that although Samsung was liable for infringement, the jury’s finding of willfulness did not meet the legal standard, and as such, damages would not be trebled. Both sides are expected to appeal aspects of the Judge and Jury’s decisions.

As these mobile device cases continue and new developments unfold, it is important to consider several aspects of intellectual property in the wake of Apple v. Samsung. First, investing in your company’s intellectual property portfolio can pay unexpected dividends down the road. For Apple, that meant having the ability to recapture significant lost revenue from a market competitor. For Samsung, that meant having the ability to mount a viable defense and to go on the attack worldwide with its own intellectual property portfolio of patents. Having a strong intellectual property portfolio not only brings some clarity to your ownership in the market, but also strengthens your future options against market competitors.

Next, although traditional utility patents are a very important part of intellectual property, they are not the only part. Both Apple and Samsung have each relied on other intellectual property rights, such as design patents and trademarks, to bolster their positions. In fact, part of the U.S. jury’s award of damages was based on Samsung’s infringement of Apple’s trade dress and design patents relating to the iPhone.

Finally, after competing in the market with another entity for years, it may become very easy to believe that a certain behavior means that an intellectual property lawsuit is unlikely. However, a wide range of factors, such as changes in market conditions, turnover in company management, and lawsuits spurred between other companies, can quickly lead to intellectual property lawsuits when least expected. As such, it is important to always be ready for the unexpected by continuing to grow your own intellectual property portfolio.


About Boyle Fredrickson

Established in 1999, Boyle Fredrickson has grown to become Wisconsin’s largest intellectual property law firm. You’ve got ideas, we protect them.

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