Apple vs Samsung – what does it mean for design?

Apple’s copyright victory over Samsung sets a precedent for the ownership of interaction design, according to design industry commentators.

Apple Samsung

Over the weekend Apple was awarded £665 million in a landmark victory over Samsung, which was found guilty over intellectual property infringement.

This included infringements over the look of individual phones, and the way they display icons and text.

The so-called ‘bounce-back response’ and the tap-and-zoom gesture as used on the iPhone were found by the court to have been copied by Samsung.

In the judgement Samsung was found guilty of both software and design patent infringement as counter-claims by Samsung were rejected.

Nike Roope, founder and executive creative director of interactive consultancy Poke says that the case ‘draws attention to the battleground of interaction design IP, which there is perhaps less focus on compared to traditional engineering patents.

‘As a broader consequence there might be more recognition and understanding of good interaction design,’ he adds.

From an ethical perspective Roope feels that ‘Samsung’s behaviour shows flagrant disregard for the original design and it’s obvious they were copying.

‘Anyone with any design sense knows those precedents didn’t exist before Apple created them.’

However he counters, ‘You shouldn’t grant ownership for fundamental interactions. It’s a grey area.’

Roope recalls the case of Amazon’s one-click buying patent, registered in the US in 1999. ‘I think you need to accept that there’s an inevitability that as ecommerce becomes more efficient, everybody is going to end up at one click.’

The impact of Apple’s victory in the short-term is their pursuit of seeing several Samsung phones banned from the US market. This leaves an uncertain future for other phones that, like Samsung’s, run on Google’s Android operating system. And indeed most smart phones, which arguably owe some debt to the development of each other, and Apple’s iPhone.

One uncertainty is whether other smartphone developers will design with restraint or caution.

‘If you’re going to be making smartphones, you have to engage through interactive systems and it would be counter-intuitive to do otherwise, but risk aversion may cause some companies to withdraw from the market,’ says Roope.

Matt Wade, designer and co-founder of interactive consultancy Kin says, ‘I don’t think smartphone design is dead because of this case with Apple. Phone designers will have to continue to think what is most useful for people, their changing needs through time, and how the design fits with other cultural objects.’

Wade makes the point that while there is an infringement on Samsung’s part there is ‘a history of design language becoming an industry standard’ – for example Apple’s obvious design debt to Dieter Rams and his work for Braun.

Samsung’s reputation has clearly taken a knock, indicated by its share price plummeting by more then £76 million, as Google (which operates the Android operating system) saw its share price close with a 1.4 per cent loss yesterday.

Meanwhile Apple shares rose by 1.9 per cent.

However, Wade says, ‘Apple has got to be careful as it is looking very aggressive but used to feel like a friendly brand.’

While brands like Apple and Samsung continue to compete in a global market, it is worth noting that the ruling has been imposed by a US court for the US market.

Aaron Wood, head of trademarks and brand protection at intellectual property lawyer Briffa, notes that the Apple Samsung case was kicked out of UK courts.

‘In the UK there aren’t software patents, so Apple pursued design law, and there wasn’t seen to be a Samsung design law infringement,’ Wood says.

He adds, ‘Samsung has made a clear infringement – but I expect there to be a challenge from them.’

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  • Maxine Horn November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s an interesting case and a Victory for Apple at a time when the UK design registration system is under review.
    The UK gov view appears to be that innovation is restricted if firms can’t build on others work.

    I can understand that, but the cost of establishing revolutionary or even evolutionary design principles and new product development and launch costs establishing a new market is exceptionally high. Doing so also establishes ‘brand’ position

    If other firms can circumvent a large chunk of development costs and trade off of of / pass off others brand principles – what incentive is there to be the ‘leader’.?

    Apple and Samsung are a comparable size – but many other cases of blatant copying of designers works, particularly in jewellry, fashion and low-tech products, most often by retail brands, is very often a David and Goliath situation.

    The same issue exists where pre-commercialised designs are disclosed to brands by designers seeking a commercialisation partner or license agreement.

    Perhaps a new IPR fee should apply – an ‘inspiration fee’ paid to the designer / firm say to a fixed fee of 1 to 2% of the first three years sales reciepts for the look-alike product.

    Designers work imitated closely by for example, a retailer, would at least gain a % of their income from the product sales – and innovation would not be restricted if the products had additional features and some points of difference building upon the orignal design.

    If some form of ethical and fair change does not occur, no-one will want to lead the market, stand all the development costs, create new markets etc – only for others with deeper pockets and a huge infrastructure and customer base, to capitalise on all the efforts and investments of the originator.

    Perhaps it’s time for the legal system / governments to start innovating !

  • dave November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am


  • Kennedy Durand November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It was obvious that Apple would win the case against Samsung as after looking at the evidence against them anyone with common sense could see that it was blatantly obvious. But it was never about the money as $1 Billion is nothing to both companies. It was about Apple finally being able to name and shame Samsung for being imitators instead of the innovators they claim to be.

    Let’s not forget about the part that Android’s played in this as Google should also be named and shamed for copying Apples iOS. With Apple’s stocks rising to a record high and both Samsung’s and Google’s stocks falling it proves that thieves never prosper.

    Samsung has decided to ditch Android and instead use Windows 8 on it’s new devices which has to be yet another blow for Google.

  • Nico November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Not only Samsung (copied) the design of other componies.
    Apple coppied the design for their IPods from the german designer Dieter Rahms, who designed in the past for the german company BRAUN products like radios and…

  • Anonymous November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Apple didn’t ‘Copy’ Dieter Rams work, they simply used it as influence for an different product.

    Also, many articles state that Rams see’s Apple products as a compliment to his work. There’s a difference between taking an idea and making it your own and simply copying it (i.e. Samsung..)

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