Apple's Court Win Feels Good
Apple’s court win over Samsung feels good. Finally, a firm in the consumer electronics sector has stood up to those that copy substantial, transformational innovations that have resonated in the marketplace. That means that others will have the motivation to engage in “big” innovation, and the innovators will have a chance to benefit from their extraordinary advances and time to improve and leverage those advances. It just feels right.
The only way to grow is to innovate and create “must haves” that define a new category or subcategory (as documented in my book, Brand Relevance). All of that “my brand is better than your brand” marketing rarely creates real growth. The problem is that big, impactful innovations are often copied, so building barriers is necessary for success.
The ultimate barrier, patent protection, is often unavailable and/or unsuccessful. It requires foresight, a good patent team, the resources and the will to make it stick. All of these attributes are not typically in place in most firms. Over time, the inability of consumer electronics firms to protect advances involving TVs, DVDs and more have resulted in the absence of a margin and shared reward for those advances. The result is an unhealthy industry that fails to benefit from real innovation.
But Apple did it. Their patented “must have” ideas, including pinch-in and pinch-out zooming, bounce-back scrolling, a new look and feel of the desktop, and other design features have really changed how people interact and function on a day-to-day basis. They made a difference. Predictably, competitors copied them and took marketing share leadership with products that looked very much like the iPhone and iPad. But Apple didn’t roll over. Instead, the brand fought back with one of the most expensive legal attacks of all time. And won! Their innovative “must haves” were protected, and as a result a class of products will not prematurely descend into commodity status.
There are uncertainties about the long term effects of this case, even if it holds up in the face of appeals. It could chill innovation because of the threat of encroaching on some known or unknown patent. It could interject lawyers into the innovation scene, which is never a good idea – in the 1970s, IBM lost innovation momentum whilst under the cloud of an anti-trust investigation.
But in the short term, it still feels good.
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