Apple and the Specter of Decline
Things look good for Apple right now. Last month, it won its big lawsuit, collecting $1 billion in damages from Samsung for infringing various patents. The iPhone 5 is selling well. And today, it heads to federal court to begin the process of gaining an actual ban on the importation and sale of Samsung’s “contraband” phones.
Meanwhile, matters look darker for Samsung, Google (which makes the software that powers the Samsung phones), and the 400 million owners of Android devices. But if history is any guide, these appearances may be deceiving: the strategy Apple has adopted runs huge long-term risks.
Apple’s iPhone, while it sometimes seems to be everywhere, has actually been losing market share to Android for the last five years. And contrary to much reporting, the patent victories are unlikely to reverse that trend on their own.
“Over the long run, [Apple’s victories] probably mean nothing” says Harold Edgar, a patent specialist at Columbia Law School. Google says it has already programmed around Apple’s design patents. The firm made it clear to me that there was no “stop the presses” moment in response to the decision. Microsoft, whose Windows Phone 8 also powers some Samsung phones, “won’t have to change [anything] in any meaningful way” according Horatio Gutierrez, head of Microsoft’s Worldwide Intellectual Property group. Gutierrez says these “design patents are famously easy to design around.