Interesting news about Apple winning a $1 billion judgment against Samsung for infringing upon Apple’s patents. In effect, the lawsuit was about whether Samsung’s smart phones copied Apple’s iPhone and iPad in terms of features, appearance, etc.
I’m of two minds on this case, as are other observers. On the one hand, it’s clear that a number of companies are trying to mimic Apple’s designs—and one would hope these companies could find ways to be more inventive and original in creating their own products. On the other hand, innovation is often about taking what already exists and putting a new spin on it (as Apple did when it radically transformed MP3 personal music players in the form of the iPod). If we tell smart phone designers that they can’t build upon Apple’s success—that they can’t incorporate some of those proven, accepted design advances into their own work—we may be inhibiting innovation. (Some of the Apple patents are pretty far-reaching, such as the patent for the shape of the iPad; does this mean that no one is allowed to make a tablet computer that’s shaped like a tablet?)
Having said that, this ruling sends a message to all smart phone makers that starting now, “you have to make truly differentiated products,” as one legal expert told The New York Times in a news analysis article. In other words, you won’t be able to continue to just play follow-the-leader behind Apple.
It seems to me that for Samsung and other smart phone companies, this is a “BQ moment.” Instead of just racing to follow Apple’s lead, it’s a time to step back and ask
What can we do for smart phone users that Apple isn’t doing already? How can re-think and improve upon the technology that already exists?
I’m not suggesting these companies aren’t already thinking this way; certainly Samsung has demonstrated its innovation “chops” many times in recent years. But it’s easy, in the rush of the marketplace, to get caught up in the pressure to follow the leader. If this ruling encourages Samsung to step back from that rush and consider some bold new paths it could blaze, it may turn out to be one of those temporary setbacks that can end up being a blessing.
Meanwhile, here’s a beautiful question for Apple: Is it better, in the long run, to stay ahead of competitors by picking up your own pace, or by slowing down everyone else? If Apple opts to focus more on the former, as it has done so often in the past, it will continue to outthink and out-innovate everybody else. If it opts for the latter, expect to see its name in future headlines that are more about lawsuits than for breakthrough products.
What beautiful questions would you suggest Apple and Samsung start asking to position themselves for the years ahead?
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