By Reena Jana
Posting in Design
Apple's recent court victory against Samsung could be seen as promoting creativity and raising the value of design -- or stifling competition, depending on your point of view.
Last Friday, a jury awarded $1 billion to Apple in its patent lawsuit against Samsung. The decision could, some observers believe, promote more original design in the world of smart phones in years to come--rather than dozens of iPhone clones. Or could Apple's victory simply result in more sales for Apple, rather than a reason to encourage non-Apple designers to be more creative?
New York Times reporter Nick Wingfield talked with designers to get their opinions--and offered some valuable ones of his own. In his August 26 story, Wingfield began with a powerful example: phones with praised, non-Apple designs have gotten good design reviews, but were met with poor sales. Consider Nokia's Lumia 900, he wrote, which failed to lure consumers despite its beauty.
Here are some of the opinions he gathered, summarized here:
- The ruling could increase the value of original user experiences, Chip Lutton, Jr., vice president and general counsel of Nest, the sleek thermostat, stated. (As Wingfield noted, Lutton used to be Apple's chief intellectual property officer, including during the Samsung patent fight.)
- The decision could force tech companies to invest more in design, according to Bill Flora, creative director at design firm Tectonic.
- Designers could also, conversely, feel they must perpetually second-guess their ideas, Flora added a negative consequence.
- Greater and more dramatic design diversity could actually confuse consumers, who might be afraid to switch from one device brand to another. This could result in stifling competition, suggested Charlie Kindel, a former Microsoft executive who blogs on the mobile industry.
- Some companies might simply become more aware of patent infringement and consequently design devices and interfaces that come as close as possible to Apple's while not quite copying them, Timothy Holbrook, an Emory University law professor, said.
To me, as a design reporter, the issues involved seem to echo those that other, older industries have faced for some time now: in fashion, for instance, there have been lengthy debates on what forms can't be legally mimicked, yet there are set rules on what forms can't logically be considered as "copied." For instance, we don't see fashion designers worrying about creating pants with two legs or stiletto-heeled pumps--these styles are understood as standard, functional. But very distinct variations on these themes can be subject to lawsuits. The high-end shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, for instance, has sued mass-market retailers for designs that are very similar to his elegant creations.
As some of Wingfield's New York Times interviewees suggested, the Apple verdict could be considered the equivalent of asking car designers to create square steering wheels for the sake of originality in the future. The pinching action used to zoom on an iPhone or iPad, as well as those two devices' rectangular-with-rounded-edges shapes were two details that the jury found Samsung guilty of copying, and Samsung--which leads Apple in smart phone sales-- is about to appeal the verdict. Could such functional designs in be considered new standard "forms" in the industry instead--the pants and stiletto pumps of smart devices? Or should Apple's unique, stylish takes on communication devices be protected fiercely in the name of promoting creativity? Just as in fashion, it will be fascinating to see how the debate unfolds. It isn't over yet.
Aug 27, 2012
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Surely, all this will do is force organisations to over-design products in the future once a close approximation of the 'ideal' standard is achieved. What would happen if the beverage industry had gone down this route? Drinks cans would all have to be different shapes and sizes to prevent litigation. In this example, the ubiquitous design of the drinks can remains the way it is as it is accepted as the best size and shape for numerous reasons. It may not turn out to be the BEST design for a soft drinks repository, but that doesn't prevent R&D companies from trying to better it, but the key thing here is that it also doesn't force every organisation to redesign their can so as to appease the litigation-trolls. I see the ruling as stifling organisations as they compete to come out with unique and patentable designs for the sake of doing so which will cost more in R&D which ultimately will be passed down to the consumer whom may then be offered substandard formfactor designs to attain a device with a particular operating system. I'm not advocating being unable to patent innovative ideas, or being unable to protect IP rights for operating system features but at the same time I find it petty that a rectangle with curved edges can be patentable. Luckily mother-nature doesn't work that way or we'd all have noses and eyes in different places with significantly different form factors despite a commonly accepted optimal feature set that most people share.......
Some of Apple's design decisions may seem "obvious" now, but in fact they were real breakthroughs when Apple introduced them. The point of innovation is frequently when someone figures out the "obvious" that had not been obvious to all of those designers that preceded them. The point of the patent system is to reward those who finally figure out these things that others were blind to.
Nothing is revolutionary and independently creative. Every designer knows that designs are evolutionary as an additive process. Can you imagine if someone had patented the "power on/off" button? In the trial, Apple had the temerity to argue that a phone icon shouldn't look like a phone icon and that a notepad icon shouldn't look like a notepad icon. And for goodness sake, the jury bought that??? America has lost all common sense.
Rectangular cell phones have been in existence for more than 15 years. These were basically Casio WinCE PDAs with addon telephony functionality added by Siemens and I believe Casio themselves for Hutchison Whampoa of Hong Kong. These were rectangular with rounded corners, touchscreens and icons like Telephone AND notepad. What does one say to that ?
As I think about this decision, I am thankful that the USPO was not around when the wheel was "invented."
How can one lose what one does not have other wise such stupid patents would never be granted. Square, round, rectangular etc, shapes have been in existence for millenniums. Just because one individual used it before another for a particular product does not warrant a patent. So far as the icons are concerned I wonder how no one has patented 16x16 to 64x64 pixels sizes and everything in between ! It might even be " patent pending "