The patent trial of the century is playing out in San Jose, Calif., and the outcome will affect you -- and millions of consumers -- in some way or another.
The two biggest smartphone makers in the world are duking it out over who copied whom, and the decision is now in the hands of a jury. Apple is suing Samsung for $2.5 billion, saying its Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets are a blatant rip-off of the iPhone and iPad design. Samsung has lodged a counterclaim saying Apple lifted some of the South Korean company's exclusive technology and asserting that any design similarities between products were developed independently.
Apple claims that Samsung products are designed to confuse consumers into thinking they're Apple products.
A loss for Apple will likely embolden its competitors, giving them the green light to style their products in Apple's image and shed any pretense of independence. Expect a slew of iPhone and iPad clones to flood the market. Blackberry-maker Research in Motion comes to mind as one that could benefit from a little Apple inspiration.
A win for Apple is a more unpredictable -- and interesting -- outcome. It will essentially grant the Cupertino, Calif.-based industry titan the sole rights to devices with a rectangular frame and round corners, as well as the smartphone homescreen with frequently used icons tacked to the bottom.
That means smartphone makers who have skated by on "inspiration" from the latest form factor du jour will have to go back to the drawing board. The result, hopefully, will be true innovation. That's something that has been in short supply in the smartphone industry lately, save for the strides made by Microsoft's excellent but still underused Windows Phone.
If Apple wins, a little bit of forced innovation could come back to bite them if Samsung or another company comes up with a game-changing product.
UBS hardware analyst Steven Milunovich wrote in a note to investors that "the real threat is not a competitor beating Apple at its own game, but instead changing the game."
Milunovich all but says Apple should try to lose its own suit and, like Coke, "claim to be 'the real thing' " in a world of knock-offs.
"The likelihood of Apple being leapfrogged or a rival creating a new category is greater if they have to think out of the box," the analyst wrote.
Yet Apple is betting that won't happen. In fact, Apple's suit is one big bet that it has the best ideas.
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