Monday Grok: Apple pwns Samsung

A billion good reasons to do your own thing

Apple’s lawyers totally pwned Samsung’s lawyers. Over the weekend, it was decided by a jury that Samsung basically stole a lot of Apple’s smartphone ideas, giving the world’s biggest company a billion dollars’ worth of bragging rights. It is a trifling amount that will get lost in Cupertino’s vast mountain of cash, but that’s not the point.

Now, you might think that the lynch mob would be lining up with baseball bats to tear Samsung a new one. But you would be wrong.

The judgement

In its report, <i>The New York Times</i> noted: “The nine jurors in the case, who faced the daunting task of answering more than 700 questions on sometimes highly technical matters, returned a verdict after just three days of deliberations at a federal courthouse in San Jose, Calif. They found that Samsung infringed on a series of Apple’s patents on mobile devices, awarding Apple more than $1 billion in damages.”

The NYT described the victory as decisive but also noted that Samsung won’t have too much trouble paying the bill. Samsung, not surprisingly is considering an appeal.

The article also suggested the judgement might lead to more choice for consumers as Apple’s competitors will now need to innovate to compete, rather than simply rely on the office photocopier in the marketing department to develop their business ideas — NYT didn’t quite describe it like that, of course.

Despite the size of the judgement against Samsung and the relatively comprehensive outcome of Apple’s victory (not to mention that the jury spent less than a day deliberating on the sum), there are plenty of people willing to suggest that Samsung’s decision to steal Apple idea’s — because that’s what the judgement really tells us — was all worth it.

<i>PandoDaily</i> headlined its article with “Copying works: How Samsung’s Decision to Mimic Apple Paid off in Spades”.

Actually, the article provides a pretty good back story and also the context for why Samsung did what it did — basically after the arrival of the iPhone everyone else went into a blind panic.

The article noted that of the options available to it, and despite the cost, Samsung’s decision can be seen as rationale. “Of the three paths open to companies in the wake of the iPhone — ignore Apple, out-innovate Apple or copy Apple — Samsung’s decision has fared the best.”

Indeed, if you look at what has happened to RIM and Nokia in the intervening years it is a reasonable, although morally bankrupt argument, assuming they survive the injunctions and are able to now pivot back to innovation. Because, stealing Apple's ideas is no longer an option available to Samsung.

The most creative angle on the story Grok could find came from <i>Mashable</i>, which seems to have decided that Apple snatched victory from the jaws of...well victory.

“Despite winning more than $1 billion in its trial against Samsung, Apple’s victory may back fire,” said the social media specialist.

The article makes the point that Apple might find it hard to explain why its offerings cost twice as much, now that a jury decided a lot of their smartphone ideas are the same. The strength of this argument needs to be weighed against the fact that the evidence supporting it was the opinions of some people that Enrique Gutierrez, chief technology officer of Digithrive, claimed to have overheard while sitting in a Starbucks. Grok is betting that Samsung’s shareholders are taking the loss just a little more seriously.

And a post script to all this. <i>Business Insider</i> noted that smartphone sales have overtaken PC sales. “This is not only having a profound effect on habits outside of work, but it’s affecting the way we work as well,” said Business Insider, which goes on to say that mobile platforms are displacing the old Windows monopoly in the enterprise. Apple is driving all of its enemies before it. The wheel has turned full circle.

Man on the moon

Finally, an indulgence. For much of the past 30 years, I have jumped in and out of journalism as a means to keep the wolves from the door. I’m still doing it now, although these days it’s called blogging because it’s easier than actually doing the hard yards of actual reporting. During those times, I met or attended presentations by some extraordinary people including a cavalcade of the usual suspects from the peak of the IT sector.

Bill Gates was most interesting when he wasn’t pretending to be Bill Gates. Scott McNealy was always angry that he wasn't Bill Gates. And Larry Ellison never fails to entertain, especially when he starts dropping firecrackers on his own people in public — which is pretty much every time he gets up in public. Just don’t get me started on Charles Wang for whom I have no regard.

But over the long arc of my intermittent career, and all the meetings, interviews, press conferences and presentations, only one sticks in my mind with genuine clarity all these year later. And that was the day I went to see Neil Armstrong speak at an IBM event about teamwork.

And here's why it has stayed with me: The person described by Clive James as the most famous man of the 20th century spoke for over half an hour about the efforts, the complexities and the challenges of sending Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and himself to the moon and bringing them safely home. But he invested not one moment of his presentation talking about the time he spent on the moon. Not a single word. There was nothing particularly informative about a couple of blokes hopping about on a big rock collecting small rocks. For Armstrong, the achievements of the team back on Earth were far more worthy.

Andrew Birmingham is the co-founder and CEO of and a director of Silicon Gully Investments.

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