Patent Litigation Lags behind Smartphone Growth

by Matt Klassen on May 16, 2013

It’s been no secret that in the tech industry one of the most popular (although arguably the least effective) weapons against a successful rival isn’t product development or radical innovation, its patent related lawsuits. For several years now patent wars have raged between mobile titans like Apple and Samsung, each trying to use every legal tool at their disposal to block or stymie their opponents at every turn.

So it comes as no surprise to hear that Apple is trying to add Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 to its growing list of Samsung products that infringe on Apple patents, the hope being of course to nip the new smartphone in the bud before it’s able to penetrate the mobile market.

Despite Apple’s recent patent victories against the Korean tech giant however, its unlikely the Cupertino Company will get much help from the courts in its fight against the Galaxy S4—which seems destined to be one of the biggest sellers in Samsung’s history—for the simple fact that the pace of lawsuits is much too slow and the growth of the smartphone market is far too fast.

As I alluded to, while patent litigation is practically the default tack companies take to try to stymie the development efforts of their closest competitors, it strikes me as one of the least effective means of curbing cutting edge development that may infringe on a company’s intellectual property, given rapid smartphone growth and device turnover.

Simply put, in the modern mobile market a phone like Samsung’s Galaxy S4 has a relevant shelf life of approximately two years, which in today’s market is generally two development cycles. That means that the phone will spend a year being the cutting edge choice for consumers, and then spend another year being the budget alternative to its more powerful successor. After that the phone sales will drop dramatically as the company and consumers move on to bigger and better things.

That means, unfortunately for Apple in this case, that by the time the courts get around to addressing the accusations of intellectual property infringement, which in our modern legal system is likely at least a year from now if not more, the device itself has had plenty of time to saturate the market, earn revenue for the company, and start to fade from view.

In fact, while the legal teams at both Apple and Samsung seem to be working overtime with patent suits and counter-suits, far more often than not the devices that are eventually found to be infringing on one or the other’s intellectual property are phones that are severely outdated, meaning the hit to a competitor’s pocketbook is negligible at best.

So why bother with patent litigation to begin with? For starters, I will admit that defending one’s intellectual property is important, but when it’s a weapon used to hamstring one’s opponent, it strikes me as a worthless endeavour and smacks of desperation.

The fact of the matter, as Roman Tsibulevskiy, patent attorney at Goldstein Patent Law, explains, is that the “Inclusion of S4 on the infringing list will not put any dent in S4 sales any time soon, because courts take too long and consumers don’t pay attention to this list, as most consumers just want a good and affordable smartphone.” This means that if Apple really wants to combat Samsung’s growing popularity, it might want to spend a little less money on its legal team and a little more money on research and development.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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