US Patent Law, The Decisive Winner of Apple v. Samsung


For those of us who avidly follow technology, it’s easy to harbor a distaste for US patent law. We’re always looking for to the next revolutionary idea, discovery or product, and patent law acts as the opposite of these things. It’s old. It’s outdated. It’s feverishly abused. Worst of all, it’s boring. However, the Apple v. Samsung trial made a strong case for the legitimacy of patents in technology. You can stand in a courtroom and argue about your patents in a deceitful manner, and a humble jury will rule against you. You can also present a convincing argument with patents to back it up, and a jury will rule in your favor. Thanks to Apple v. Samsung, for the first time since I started paying attention to this stuff, patent law in tech didn’t appear wholly broken.

Simplicity would somehow arise throughout the Apple v. Samsung trial, even in the depths of its enormous complexity. Apple’s legal team managed to paint a pretty clear picture, one the jury could comprehend and respond to without much hesitation. The beauty was that this trick didn’t come off as the wizardry of an elite legal team. They successfully humanized Apple, and the main reason they were able to do so was that Apple had behaved wholesomely. Their argument remained simple, even in the most challenging, obtuse details of the case.

This trick didn’t come off as the wizardry of an elite legal team

The most striking example of this was how Apple negated the accusation of infringing on two of Samsung’s standards-essentials patents. When you take a close look at this stuff, it’s excruciatingly boring. It’s dull enough to make a jury want to hang themselves. Basically, Samsung claimed that Apple violated their patents that, to quote Bryan Bishop, "...cover technologies relating to packet transmission and power regulation for data channels on cellular devices." It was exactly the kind of arcane crap that makes US patent law seem so unessential and destructive. But as dull and difficult as it was to grasp, Apple managed to shoot it down in a straightforward manner.

To prove that they had a right to use these technologies, which are carried out on baseboard processors manufactured by Intel, Apple produced receipts. They proved that they had purchased the processors in the United States, and therefore had a right to use Intel’s license on Samsung’s patents. Apple may be a massively powerful and ungodly rich company, but it’s moments like this that they still seem like two nerdy guys operating out of their parent’s garage. Apple was the nice kid next door who had responsibly hung onto their important paper receipts, and Samsung was the nervous stranger who spent fourteen minutes listlessly barking about something called FRAND.

Similar to the joint stranglehold that cable providers and the networks have on premium TV content, US patent law simply won’t crumble and disappear with a snap of your fingers. It adds layers of complexity that can potentially stymie innovation, and breeds abusive patent trolls like Oasis Research who make a mockery of honest business practices. But Apple v. Samsung proved that a jury can be presented with some of the complexities of patent law, and rapidly arrive at a confident verdict. There was a lot more to this case than a black rectangle with rounded corners, as Samsung’s official statement so narrow-mindedly put it, but it was nice to see the the US patent system looking so relevant, functional, and oddly necessary.