The Washington Post

Apple-Samsung ruling leads to watershed moment in mobile tech innovation

View Photo Gallery: Apple is infamous for the control it exercises over its image — especially its retail stores. Customers often know Apple stores at a glance, since the company’s storefronts often employ the same stark, simple lines as its products while also reflecting the character of their surroundings.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but not if you’re technology heavyweight Apple.

Just ask Samsung.

On Friday, a jury overwhelmingly sided with Apple, finding that Samsung had copied some of Apple’s popular designs. A judge ruled in favor of awarding Apple $1.05 billion in damages. Samsung plans to appeal the decision while Apple is seeking an injunction banning some of Samsung’s phones. It’s also possible Apple could pursue as much as $3 billion in damages given the infringement was deemed “willful.” But, the staggering fines aside, what does the ruling mean for the future of mobile technology innovation?

Companies that employ Apple’s patented designs, some of which are accepted as all but standard in mobile tech, have to, quite literally, go back to the drawing board as the Post’s Craig Timberg and Hayley Tsukayama report. This includes finding an alternative to Apple’s popular ”pinch-to-zoom” feature.

Meanwhile companies that had once been deemed on the outs in the mobile technology world, have been considered winners in the wake of the decision — among them Microsoft and Blackberry-maker Research in Motion (RIM). As Slate’s Matthew Yglesias writes, aside from winners and losers, the case showcases two models of innovation: one where innovation is expensive and the other where it is difficult.

But there is another important aspect to the case, which Yglesias also touches on: the role of imitation in innovation.

An employee poses as he holds Apple's iPhone 4s (L) and Samsung's Galaxy S III at a store in Seoul last week. (LEE JAE-WON/REUTERS)

“To be fair, Apple didn’t invent the cell phone. They didn’t invent the tablet computer,” said Shenkar — inventions the company has never laid claim to.

“The trick, if you will, is to imitate without legally infringing,” he said.

Asked if the decision presented a watershed in innovation for the tech sector, Shenkar said, “I am not [of] the opinion, as many people have articulated now, that the world will change as a result [of the patent case decision]. I really don’t think so.”

“We also tend to completely forget we are in a global environment,” Shenkar said. After all, China is a faster-growing cellphone market than the United Sates — and, in China, imitation is far more accepted.

“Very large parts of the world — the fastest growing part of the market— do not necessarily care much about legal protection,” he said. “Throughout the ages, we’ve always had imitation. We continue to have imitation. Actually my view is ...there will be more imitation going forward.”

“If you do imitation right, without infringement, you will be just fine.”

What do you think: Is imitation the key to innovation. If so, what will become of innovation in mobile technology. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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