Even If Samsung And Apple Copied Every Last Detail From Each Other, Who Cares?

from the important-question dept

With the Apple/Samsung case finishing up, James Allworth, over at HBR, has an excellent post wondering why it matters if one company copies from another? A few years ago, we wrote about a book that pointed out that copying and then innovating on the copies is a perfectly reasonable and important business strategy. Allworth points to a new book (one I’ve been looking forward to for a while) by Chris Sprigman and Kal Raustiala (who we’ve quoted numerous times) called The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation.

He then takes the lessons of that book and applies it to the Apple/Samsung fight, noting that even if we assume they were imitating each other, that seems to have only encouraged further innovation, not less:

If you go back to the mid-1990s, there was their famous “look and feel” lawsuit against Microsoft. Apple’s case there was eerily similar to the one they’re running today: “we innovated in creating the graphical user interface; Microsoft copied us; if our competitors simply copy us, it’s impossible for us to keep innovating.” Apple ended up losing the case.

But it’s what happened next that’s really fascinating.

Apple didn’t stop innovating at all. Instead: they came out with the iMac. Then OS X (“Redmond, start your photocopiers“). Then the iPod. Then the iPhone. And now, most recently, the iPad. Given the underlying reason that Apple has been bringing these cases to court was to enable them to continue to innovate, it’s hard not to ask: if copying stops innovation, why didn’t Apple stop innovating last time they were copied? Being copied didn’t stop or slow their ability to innovate at all. If anything, it only seemed to accelerate it. Apple wasn’t able to rest on its laurels; to return to profitability, and to take the mantle they hold today of one of the technology industry’s largest companies, they had to innovate as fast as they could.

It’s the same story we’ve been explaining for years. History and tons of studies have shown over and over and over again that competition drives innovation, because innovation is an ongoing process. Thus, when others can copy you, that actually accelerates innovation by giving the original incentives to stay ahead in the marketplace, and develop the next great thing. Research has also shown that it’s not as easy as you think to “just copy” because you only see the superficial aspects to copy, rather than having the deeper understanding of what works and what doesn’t that a market leader often gains.

In fact, when you understand that, you realize that patents can actually slow down innovation by letting a company rest on its laurels, and not have to continue to rapidly innovate. Other companies can’t build on what they did first, and so they don’t have the same incentives to continue to advance the market forward. And the Apple/Samsung fight in the market appears to support that.

If Apple ends up winning this case against Samsung — and either stops Samsung from releasing their phones and tablets to the market, or charges them a hefty license fee to do so — does anyone really believe that the market will suddenly become more innovative, or that devices will suddenly become more affordable? Similarly, if Samsung wins, do you really believe that Apple will suddenly slow its aggressive development of the iPhone and iPad? It’s certainly not what happened last time they lost one of these cases.

Now, if you’re with me so far, then I don’t think it’s a leap to suggest that having these companies duke it out in court over “who might have copied who” is counterproductive. All these lawsuits flying around suggest that everyone is already copying each other, anyway. A better solution? Let’s have these companies solely focused on duking it out in the marketplace — where consumers, not courtrooms, make the decisions about innovation. In such a world, the best defense against copying isn’t lawsuits, but rather, to innovate at such a rate that your competition can’t copy you fast enough. That, to me, sounds like an ideal situation not just for consumers — but for the real innovators, too.


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Companies: apple, samsung

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Comments on “Even If Samsung And Apple Copied Every Last Detail From Each Other, Who Cares?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

” patents can actually slow down innovation by letting a company rest on its laurels,”

So can making a billion plus dollars a year… but that doesn’t stop Apple either.

Sorry, but it cuts both ways. Statements like this are really just FUD to the whole deal. The vast majority of patents are not used as the basis of attacks, they are not used as the basis of supporting the old NPE, they are used by companies to secure themselves a little space in the market, and often to provide them with a way to turn ideas and perhaps a basic working model into income via licensing, which in turn gives them the money to keep on innovating.

Apple “innovated” after the Microsoft lawsuit mostly because they were dying, nearly dead. Without Microsoft investing in Apple, we would have one less player now.

History, it’s a complete thing, not just little parts that you like.

blaktron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In what world does a google search of forum posts count as evidence of anything? Yes, lots of people are complaining out of ignorance (including you and the poster i responded to).

If you have any specific questions about SecureBoot or The Windows Store (the 2 things used as evidence to call win8 ‘closed’) I would be happy to answer them for you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

funny, I didn’t interpret comment as saying that W8 would be more closed than W7, but instead as saying that Microsoft wouldn’t be working on W8 so soon after releasing W7 if it didn’t need to keep up with Apple.

Of course, W8, with its so-called “secure” boot scheme screams of limiting competition by shutting out superusers who want to run or develop alternate OSes on mass-market hardware. So in that way, at least, it is more closed than W7.

blaktron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Except thats not at ALL what SecureBoot does… all it does is prevent the boot information stored on the motherboard’s EFI partition from being used to boot other disks. Thats it. If someone has the access required to change the motherboards boot order they can boot straight to the disk and bypass secureboot altogether.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It looks like you’re right (except on ARM, apparently, and it’s easy enough to find non-MS, non-Apple ARM devices… not so much with x86). Thanks for encouraging me to look closer at the issue. According to this article from arstechnica, Microsoft’s standard will allow us to turn it off entirely if we want to. It’s always a relief to discover my paranoia and frustration are unwarranted.

By the way, that article has what may be the longest thread ever of debating comments without pre-adolescent name calling, if any of our local trolls want to learn how it’s properly done… 🙂

ComputerAddict (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

See Windows 8 App Store

“You’ll only be able to install Metro apps via the store, and Microsoft will control what’s in the store and what’s not.”

And while I’m sure nay-sayers will argue that “People don’t have to use the App Store” It is definitely being built as a primary feature of Windows 8, and Will be Very prominent (and maybe the only way some manf. offer apps) for Tablets / netbooks / phones.


Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“1- They have more than enough cash to pay for legal fees into the next century, I doubt Samsung has that kind of cash laying around.”

$2.5 Billion US is a piss in the bucket for both companies.

Total equity for Samsung Electronics alone is $224.7 Billion US.

It’s not Samsung’s profit that’s at stake, it’s Samsung’s reputation as an innovator.


Bruce Partington says:

Re: Re:

No, it means Apple was developing it at the same time (and was more advanced in some areas, such as QuickDraw — PARC’s WIMP interface didn’t even have overlapping windows). Isn’t independent, parallel development what Masnick is describing above as the normal way industries evolve?

Moreover, Apple paid Xerox for what they took, licensing the Alto’s GUI among other things.

blaktron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You know these ‘facts’ you just spewed out are verifiably false, right?

The ‘license’ Apple was granted by Xerox was free (and also granted to MS), Apple was NOT developing a GUI prior to their first visit to PARC (they started after the first view, and went back a few times for details such as X-Y mouse pathing and how to keep track of windowing information without consuming all the RAM all at once)

Basically, Apple and MS were given the same tools at the same time, Apple brought them to market fastest and then screamed and cried about how everyone stole everything from them.

Anonymous Coward says:

It may not be what is driving this, but..

These Apple lawsuits make a certain amount of business sense.

If Apple wins, they get legal monopoly protection and chill the market for potential competition.

If Apple loses, they still win:
1- They have more than enough cash to pay for legal fees into the next century, I doubt Samsung has that kind of cash laying around.

2-They erect speedbumps in front of Samsung for future innovation. New products will get held in the pipeline pending the outcome of appeals.

3-The next company with a brilliant idea for a smartphone will waste time and money in legal reviews, or decide it’s just not worth risking the legal costs of a patent suit from Apple.

All of which buys months or years worth of a head start for Apple, with no real downside, from their perspective.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: It may not be what is driving this, but..

1- They have more than enough cash to pay for legal fees into the next century, I doubt Samsung has that kind of cash laying around.

Erm… It has. And I’m only looking at its smartphone business. I promise I won’t mention TVs, fridges, sound systems, air conditioning systems etc.

2-They erect speedbumps in front of Samsung for future innovation. New products will get held in the pipeline pending the outcome of appeals.

Yes, and then start suing Apple in retaliation (along with others such as Motorola). What goes around comes around 😉

3-The next company with a brilliant idea for a smartphone will waste time and money in legal reviews, or decide it’s just not worth risking the legal costs of a patent suit from Apple.

Indeed, that’s why patents are so bad. Although it can come back to haunt Apple as we are seeing.

Keroberos (profile) says:

Re: It may not be what is driving this, but..

This only works if you’re the only bully on the playground. As you can see from all the current patent lawsuits in the tech sector (smart phones and tablets in particular) this is quickly becoming no longer the case. Add in all the non practicing patent hording trolls and the sell-off of patent portfolios from bankrupt and defunct companies (now that tech patents are seen as valuable commodities we’ll start seeing more of this), it’s quickly becoming a very bad business practice to try suing the competition out of the market.

This sort of reminds me of Douglas Adams “Shoe Event Horizon”. If things keep going as they are, the main business of a tech company will be to sue other tech companies, or defend themselves from lawsuits from other tech companies, with the development and sale of any tech items to consumers being secondary.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

They have invented somethings for sure but a lot of their “inventions” are actually innovations and that’s something completely different.

True invention is actually quite rare and doesn’t happen a lot. Innovation happens all the time and some companies, like Apple, are quite good at innovating. If you create something that the world has never seen before then I think you deserve a little protection for a while. Innovation not so much because so much of it is plain common sense once a product is better understood or has been used for a little while.

Anonymous Coward says:

the truest words i have read in a long time. shame there weren’t more notice taken by more companies. now Google is suing Apple with it’s recently acquired Motorola patents. seems to me that not only is Apple the worst of the bunch, it’s best bet would have been to keep it’s big mouth shut. now they’re all after it and good job too. it wants everything and to use everything, regardless of whose it is or who thought of it/produced it first, for free. complete reversal over anything it does think up and others want to use it. the only ones that win these cases are the lawyers. the only ones that lose are the customers!

Chris Pratt (profile) says:

Missing the point entirely...

If anyone actually believes that Apple is suing Samsung because their sales were legitimately hurt by Samsung’s copying or this is otherwise about money in any way, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you. Apple is just fine with out-innovating. It’s what they do, have always done, and continue to do. Their beef is not that Samsung created a successful line of products; it’s that Samsung blatantly and unabashedly copied Apple down to the dock connector and even the packaging it comes in. Apple licensed a ton of their IP to Microsoft for the Surface, and if you have more than a withering fragment of a brain you can see that Apple has made zero moves, overtly or covertly to attack Microsoft. Now, the naysayers will naysay that Microsoft’s mobile footprint is so small as to not even present a challenge to Apple, but the truth is that Apple is 100% OK with a truly competing line of products. They are not however okay with a competing line of products that is simply a mirror of their own products with a different brand slapped on it.

blaktron (profile) says:

Re: Missing the point entirely...

“down to the dock connector”

Have you ever even seen a smartphone other than Apple’s? Samsung phones dont have any sort of ‘dock connector’, they use Micro-USB (a widely available standard).

Try again?

Also, they are ‘ok’ with MS because the 2 companies have lots of cross-licensing in place, otherwise Apple would be so held down by Desktop patents that MS holds that they wouldnt be able to sell MacOS.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Missing the point entirely...

Let me point you to this:

The Samsung Galaxy S III: The First Smartphone Designed Entirely By Lawyers

Samsung’s Galaxy S 3 was designed to deliberately not even resemble the iPhone and yet Apple has accused that particular phone in other lawsuits in other countries.

That “slavishly copied” mantra is just an excuse. There are over 4000 different devices — in every size, shape, color and style — and I’m sure they’re all “slavishly” copied from the iPhone.

The real issue is that Apple is using any excuse it can, in any court in any country to get competitors products banned from the market. Apple isn’t interested in money. Apple feels it is entitled by divine right, an exclusive gift from God to Apple of the entire mobile phone market — despite other players being in the market for decades.

Bruce Partington says:

That's hardly an informed opinion

Apple ended up losing the case.

Funny how it isn’t mentioned that they only lost because they had licensed more to Microsoft than they had intended, not because their theory of copyright applied to GUI elements was found to be wrong.

Apple didn’t stop innovating at all. Instead: they came out with the iMac.

How true. If you don’t remember the company stalling out with OS 9, Copland, etc for years and facing bankruptcy, the mid-90s were definitely Apple firing on all cylinders. By that standard the last decade of SCO’s existence has been a non-stop jamboree of technical innovation.

Jack says:

Why do people always want to fix symptoms? Fix the damned root cause!

The bottom line is that the patent system is badly broken and is being abused by the anonymous extremely greedy rich (tiny) minority as a means to deny valid competition and drive up the financial profits of its evildoings and the US government (with figureheads du jour) that it owns and controls (and the governments of the dozens of other countries that it controls) is not a bona fide government (that would actually would ever fix a broken patent system), but rather a collection of mentally-challenged, bought and paid for greedy schoolyard bullies operating as a soulless greed-driven business lobby that would rather make its lowest class wage war on its behalf in order to steal resources and kill as needed and smite those who dare expose their evil than stand up and actually do something for the good of mankind.

This “kill or be killed” crap is tiring. Greed is the root of evil. Maintain course and it will only get worse.


That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why do people always want to fix symptoms? Fix the damned root cause!

As awesome as that bill would be, and this may be tinfoil hat territory, I’d say it’s got an essentially non-existent chance of actually being passed, as the republicans would fight tooth and nail to keep obama from being able to claim a win for sanity in the form of that bill this close to the presidential elections.

Anonymous Coward says:

copyright and patents were intended to give small/powerless innovators a bit more power.
Big company copying big company is not the problem. They both have the resources to continue in business.
But what happens when the individual inventor is easily copied? (eg: Farnsworth) There ability to constantly innovate is necessarily less. Their only option is to sell out to a large company. That being their only viable option, the value of their innovation is substantially depressed.
The problems were seeing is in line with other problems in treating “corporations” as individuals, when they lack the human characteristics we expect in real people.

Another problem is the cost of copying has dropped substantially, and speed and accuracy of it have increased just as dramatically. There used to be a natural barrier in copying that we no longer have.

I’m a proponent of very limited design copyright: 1 year only. 1 Season. That’s it. Patents would be limited to 5 years (depreciation of tech equipment). Copyrights, to 20 years (1 generation).

Patents would also be a lot more stringent on the “non obvious” and “prior art” aspects. They would have to be posted in an RFQ phase.

Design copyright would be limited to true innovative design. Flat rectangular tablet with rounded corners??? You mean like a flat rectangular thing with hinges? Yeah. I have a design patent on a door. Sue me.

bshock (profile) says:

This is only about monopoly

Sure, competition drives innovation, just as it drives lower prices and better service. That’s classic capitalism.

And corporations hate real capitalism.

Oh, they love the word “capitalism,” as long as the parenthetical understanding is “the opposite of government regulation of trade,” or something like that. Which sounds great, until you admit just how fragile are the capitalist markets that allow real competition. Without government regulation, competitive markets last for no more than the blink of an eye.

Apple wants to control its market. Samsung wants to control its market as well, though is considerably less far along in doing so. Neither want competition, and so neither want what is best for consumers.

These companies are not your friends — they’re your predators.

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