Apple is suing Samsung for allegedly ripping off the look and feel of its iPhone and iPad.Here’s the problem: it’s not clear that anyone has ever won a “look and feel” lawsuit. (The legal term is “trade dress.”)
Nor should they. Fast-following and imitating is a big part of what makes free markets work. It helps competition and helps bring innovations to consumers faster.
What’s more, Samsung, a huge conglomerate that makes all sorts of electronics products, is an important supplier to Apple.
So what’s the deal?
It’s the same reason why Microsoft is suing makers of Android phones: to give Android a price.
Android is free. In some cases, it’s even cheaper than free, with Google sharing some revenue from Google searches on Android phones with partners. This is hugely disruptive to both Microsoft and Apple’s business models; Microsoft because they make money on software licenses, and Apple on hardware. And this disruptive approach is winning: Android is surging past iOS in marketshare.
A lawsuit from a big company, even if doomed, still takes a lot of time, energy and money to fight off. So a Samsung or someone else might settle, accepting to pay some form of licence. If that happens, Apple can go around the other manufacturers asking for the same licence and have a much stronger claim. And now OEMs have to factor that cost into the decision to choose Android. And all of a sudden, Android has a price.