Apple v Samsung - Why Apple is right, but should lose
So Apple is suing Samsung for $3B on account of a bunch of patents that allegedly protect the design and utility of the iPhone and iPad.
Of course Samsung copied Apple in numerous ways. Heck, Samsung's TouchWiz GUI seemed like the only Android skin specifically designed to mimick iOS's app drawer (i.e., paginated horizontal scrolling vs. Android's sock vertical scroll).
And, yes, the Galaxy S line had a passing resemblance to the iPhone 3 series (same with iPad and Galaxy Tab 10.1). And, true, Android users clearly benefited by these "inspired rip offs" that Samsung cribbed from Apple.
This is why Apple is right. Samsung heavily lifted ideas from Apple.
But that doesn't mean Apple has a solid case (in terms of patent legitimacy or enforcement) based on both precedent and market dynamics.
First, on precedent: Samsung can -- and should -- make the case that in any electronic device/appliance category, common & core design elements settle in over time, and every company essentially competes on the margins of innovation. Look at almost every single segment; Desktop PCs, laptop PCs, televisions, refrigerators, microwave ovens, cordless phones, A/V receivers, DVD/Blu-Ray players. Even some modern PC-based Ultrabooks look like spitting images of MacBook Air's.
In other words, precedent in virtually every other electronic device segment tells us that at a certain point in the innovation curve of a device's evolution, design converges in all the big ways, and the differentiation occurs in the details. The "black rectangle" that Apple claims to have invented is the equivalent to trying to patent a French Door refrigerator design, or a super-thin laptop with chicklet keys. And the software innovations they claim are akin to Sony patenting a compact disc tray. It's just not practical to patent (or, at least, enforce the patent) of such obvious and universal design concepts.
Now, on market dynamics: It's going to be quite difficult (if Samsung's legal team is worth their salt) for Apple to prove that Samsung's similarities created confusion in the market, or a significant hit to Apple's business. Here's why: The more Samsung's designs deviated from Apple's designs, the better Samsung's phones sold.
Let's be very clear: Nothing Samsung makes even comes close to the iPhone 4's design. Not even a passing resemblance, I'd argue. Yet, the Galaxy S 2 (what with it's 4.3" display and textured plastic back plate, with a hump at the bottom) sold far more units than the iPhone3-resembling Galaxy S line. And Samsung's Galaxy S 3 -- which is an even further departure from anything Apple would even think of designing, is going to easily outsell the Galaxy S2 line of phones.
So, while Samsung started off looking a bit like its iPhone competitors in phones and in tablets, the market dynamics prove that it wasn't the similarities that enabled Samsung to take Apple's market share. On the contrary - it's clearly the differences that are helping Samsung take market share from Apple!
This, in a nutshell, is why Apple is right (they were copied) and why they should lose (because, as every other device category shows us, you can't use your patents to stop the natural convergence of design for a device category).
I rest my case -- until someone smarter than me tells me why I'm so very, very wrong. Have at it in the comments.