Copying Apple or as Samsung Calls it, Benchmarking Your Peers

Jim Dalrymple / August 9th, 2012

The Apple vs Samsung trial is a week old and the evidence Apple presented is quite compelling. Nothing has been more captivating than a 132-page internal Samsung document that recommends copying the iPhone.

The document lauded the importance of Apple functions like double-tap on a Web page to zoom in/out and recommended the functionality needed to be supplemented. Apple even showed how Samsung purposely copied the icons used on the iPhone screen to represent things like making a phone call, contacts, settings and photos.

Samsung on Wednesday issued a statement defending itself and downplaying the importance of the document.

“Samsung benchmarks many peer companies,” she said. “In fact, these are typical competitive analyses routinely undertaken by many companies in many industries – including Apple. Samsung stands by its culture of continuous improvement and innovation. We are very proud of the product innovations driven by our more than 50,000 designers and engineers around the world who have made Samsung’s products the products of choice.”

Here’s the problem. Samsung didn’t take Apple’s features and make them better. In fact, looking at the evidence, Samsung did everything it could to make its devices and icons look exactly like the iPhone’s.

No matter how you look at it or which side of this trial you’re on, that’s wrong, plain and simple.

Samsung contends that Apple doesn’t own the right to putting a receiver on an icon to indicate that it’s used for making a phone call. Samsung fans also argue that Apple can’t patent a rectangle. These arguments don’t get to the heart of the matter, which is the blatant copying of everything Apple is doing.

Samsung didn’t take an Apple idea, improve on it and release it in its Galaxy products. Instead, they took Apple’s ideas, copied them down to the color of the icons and released them as their own.

It’s not about rectangles, but rather stealing a unique way of interacting with a device and its software. There can be no doubt that Apple perfected a new way for consumers to interact with a device when it released the iPhone. Until it was released, people used a stylus or directional arrows on a built-in keyboard.

I wrote earlier this week that Apple’s motives for suing Samsung had nothing to do with the $2.5 billion in damages Apple is seeking from the court for past products from Samsung, but rather to protect future products.

Samsung has made it clear that it will shamelessly copy everything Apple does, so Apple needs to stop that now. Apple can’t risk having Samsung copy its future innovations. By suing them now, Samsung will have to rethink its strategy and innovate on its own.

There is nothing wrong with a competitive analysis, they are done all the time in every industry. However, it’s not right to take that analysis and steal from your competition.

Jim Dalrymple

Jim Dalrymple has been reporting on Apple for almost 20 years and has written for many industry publications. Jim currently runs The Loop, a technology focused blog, and plays guitar in his spare time. You can follow him on Twitter or visit his Web site.
  • I’d like to see Samsung present some of the similar documents they’ve produced comparing their product to other major competitors. Let’s see how long those documents are and what courses of action they recommend.

    I’m not holding my breath.

    • Oh I am sure they did it for the RAZR phone coz they had one of those, and probably did the same for Blackberry’s phones as well… But they were a while ago, and I thought there was something at the front of this doc that said something like, we’ve been aiming at Nokia, the wrong competitor in this space.

      • I don’t mean other products they’d copied previously. I mean, their defense of this document is that “We do that will ALL our competitors!” So… where are the similar documents comparing the same Galaxy S 1 against non-iPhone handsets from, say, Nokia or RIM?

        • W. van Dam

          From everything that I’ve been hearing I understand that Samsung is quite notorious for copying the work of others, not just when it comes to mobile phones. Granted, the divisions of Samsung are (from what I understand) quite independent, and I’ve not been in touch with all the industries they operate in, but that’s the general picture I’m getting.

          For example, I’ve heard from chip makers who now refuse any collaboration with Samsung, because the end result alway has always been that Samsung runs off with the knowledge. Due to Samsung’s superior capability in producing products on a mass scale (for whatever reason), Samsung did quite some damage.
          On a side note, be wary of assuming job titles are equal in Asia and Western countries. I’ve had a Chinese colleague who had some experience as a “developer” for FoxConn, which meant to say he had done some time as line worker. Not quite what you’d expect from the job title.
          I do not know how this applies to Samsung, but I’m curious what “50.000 designers and engineers” actually means.

          Also, to be fair, some of Apple’s claims really are questionable. And do not have any illusions that Samsung is the only one doing reverse engineering. I’d honestly be shocked to learn if for example Nokia didn’t reverse engineer Samsung’s phones. Apple has a habit of doing things a bit different, but there is a pretty good chance they’ve also been at it. Of course, reverse engineering is not the same as copying.

  • Rich

    “Samsung fans also argue that Apple can’t patent a rectangle.”

    That’s like saying no one can patent a circle: obviously the patent office wouldn’t allow it. Anyone who says that is only expressing their dislike of Apple, not putting forward a rational criticism of Apple’s complaint.

    • But they’re doing it a lot of times. Everywhere.

  • flickeringlamp

    I basically agree that Samsung is shamelessly stealing Apple’s work. What I’m not so sure about is whether Apple can afford to let it continue. Stealing sure is frustrating, but iPhone sales are limited by availability, not by demand.

  • no

    “Apple perfected a new way for consumers to interact with a device when it released the iPhone. Until it was released, people used a stylus or directional arrows on a built-in keyboard.”

    but so far Apple doesn’t have a fundamental patent that prevent that copying.
    copying is not illegal in business only in academics.

    • Rich

      I believe Samsung violated a number of Apple’s patents, and that is illegal.

      • davidgiff

        Apple’s patents are for ridiculously stupid things that shouldn’t have gotten patten approval.

        • jfutral

          Just you saying so has no affect or bearing on the issue. It will take a court room to decide that, too.

          Joe

        • Says you. But since you are abysmally ignorant of the past and present states of the smartphone market, your commentary is worthless.

          • And you appear to be just plain ignorant in general.

          • I’m sorry, did I hurt someone’s feelings? Were you building a storm of Apple angst and then along came reality and your angst evaporated??

    • mark212

      patents aren’t the only form of protection for intellectual property. There are a host of laws that make copying illegal in business. Apple does have several hundred patents on specific ways that people interact with devices on a touch screen and that’s exactly what’s at issue in this trial.

    • jfutral

      Ask Coca Cola about that when people try to copy their trade dress.

      Joe

  • andi

    Im not sure if you understand this document at all?
    So the influence of this compare should be on de following devices, so they only document only differences between the phones… the following phones from samsung are more different from the iphone than the S1, in general mutch better than the iphone 😉

  • davidgiff

    “future Innovations” ?? Apple hasn’t invented anything with the iphone. They just made a pretty cellphone. There wasn’t any new invention they came up with. It’s a pretty design with a somewhat neat interface, but certainly not anything beyond that. Jim Dalrymple here must have typed that column on his mac in a Starbucks while trying to look as hipster as possible. Apple uses smoke and mirrors and pretty pictures and designs. I would not say they invent anything new.

    • TheEternalEmperor

      And yet, here we are with Samsung creating a 123 page document with enough innovation to wholesale copy.

      Weak points are supplemented with insults. Twas ever thus.

    • FalKirk

      “Apple hasn’t invented anything with the iphone. They just made a pretty cellphone.” – davidgiff

      Please stop. You’re embarrassing yourself.

    • Eric

      You do not understand the difference between innovation and invention.

    • A pretty design with a somewhat neat interface that radically changed the consumers expectation of smartphone capabilities and left the once mighty cell phone incumbents in ruins. Look around at the companies that define the smartphone market today. 6 years ago, they were nobodies in the cell industry.

      Your pathetic anti-Apple bias requires that you be incapable of remembering anything that happened more than 6 months ago, and as a result your strident statements are easily exposed as pathetic distortions, when they are not simply lies.

    • Rich

      It sounds like you have no familiarity with the development of the iPhone. And I could say you typed your comment on a Timex computer in a run-down dive while trying to look as ugly as possible, but it wouldn’t mean any more than your insults flung at Dalrymple.

      • davidgiff

        Well I wasn’t really trying to insult him. Just paint a stereotype of most apple users. And I would much rather have a Timex than an Apple product. I know that Timex will last. If anything goes wrong on your iphone you have to send it in or take it in. Hell, every cellphone I’ve owned I can at least open it up to change the battery. And I love dives, what’s wrong with dives?

        • Very weak. And you’re not even honest enough to admit that you were insulting Dalrymple. Though at least you were honest enough to admit that you push stereotypes, a pathetic version of comprehension of others. Did it occur to you that you don’t need to open up an iPhone to keep it working? Do you truly love to change batteries so much that you get a phone with easily changed batteries, rather than one that goes so long on a charge that you don’t have to worry about it so much? What is the purpose of the phone, to be able to use it as long as you need, or to endlessly change batteries that won’t keep a charge?

  • Why do I get the feeling that this is all a moot point?

    What counts is what the law, patent law, says about the matter. And not what WE as uneducated observers think is “similar” or “a copy”.

    To me as an absolute layman it’s beyond anything to make a judgement on ANYTHING that is going on in this case. This whole shebang reminds me of the ridiculousness of Apple customers accusing Microsoft of copying Mac OS when M$ published Windows.

    This is all so useless. Yes, we all see that it’s basically a copy, the question is IS THIS PUNISHABLE or is the US patent system so broken that this will pass?

    Or, to put it in more understandable terms: if Gibson is settling and you think that’s a joke then why again is it obvious to you that Samsung will be sentenced to anything?

    What if THE LAW is broken?

    • steve_wildstrom

      Since the law is based on precedent, it’s important that we get them right.

      Apple’s case against Microsoft (enough with the M$ already; it’s childish) was really a contract case. Microsoft had licensed certain elements of MacOS and the dispute concerned which versions of Windows the license extended to. The case was never adjudicated.

      Gibson is relevant only in a really obscure way. The Lacey Act, which got Gibson, is similar to patent law in the sense that not knowing the wood was from endangered species is not a defense, just as unintentional infringement is not a defense (except against treble damages.)

      Samsung cannot be “sentenced” to anything and it’s not really a matter of breaking the law. This is a civil dispute between private parties about whether Samsung infringed on specific Apple design patents and, as is always the case in patent law, will turn on very technical issues.

      • Thanks for the insight.

        And the problem is exactly about not understanding what’s what. You can’t tell me that more than 1% of the people who are getting into heated debates over this understand what is what in these suits. I certainly don’t understand it not matter how much funny pictures I see and “how clearly they copied”.

        I mean look at what you just said. You tell me that Microsoft licensed “certain elements”. That alone renders every single discussion that was waged on alt.com.microsoft.die.die.die moot.

        You have to be a patent lawyer to understand what’s going on here. And I actually don’t see the point.

        What do we, as the users, gain from this whole ordeal? I think the answer is nothing.

        What’s even worse is that I think if Apple would loose all patents they’d have to invent new things to make more money. What’s better? Them entrenching or the law being changed in a way so that you’d have to advance further, stay ahead etc.

        I mean you can’t tell me that the iPod wasn’t vigorously copied right after Apple made it. Listen to Gruber’s last couple of podcasts. Their decision was to abandon lines of iPods so early because they thought that was the way to keep ahead of the pack. Keep re-inventing the wheel (literally!) to make the people buy a new iPod every single year.

        If Apple is granted (whatever – I don’t know what they would get – 2bn in damages?) and Samsung would have to retreat, then all this would mean is that Apple wouldn’t have to pace themselves that much anymore.

        I bought my first Apple product when I bought my first iPod. And then I bought an iPhone. And another one. And another. And this year I bought a Galaxy Nexus for 350 Euro – that’s nearly half of what an iPhone costs. And I plan on buying an iPad mini because the iPad is still too heavy IMHO.

        These two companies should focus on INVENTING. You can’t tell me that those measly 2bn are paying for anything. It’s merely a statement if you ask me. And it’s useless for me as a customer. Apple has 117bn dollars. Gruber keeps saying it’s hard to spend this kind of money on aquisitions.

        Why not grant Apple nothing. And make them spend those 117bn on research. I mean if 2bn is what Samsung cost them and if that is the amount it took to gain half the market, then 117bn should be enough money to invent the iPhone 25 times over.

        They have enough money. And Steve Jobs is dead. Why do we care about this? Why is this important to us?

        All we should care about is progress. If we’d live in the world of Star Trek (I know, silly example) all we’d care about is furthering society as a whole. Instead the company with so much money you could buy Luxemburg with it is fighting over change with a Korean company that’s most likely going to ruin itself. Korea is so corrupt they’d most likely fall on their faces in the long run anyway.

        This whole comparing of Samung with Apple is making me angry. There’s better things in life to spend your time with. It all feels like a giant game of “No my football team is better than yours”. Next thing we have nerds in the streets bashing their heads in because they didn’t win this lawsuit.

        • jfutral

          “This whole comparing of Samung with Apple is making me angry. There’s better things in life to spend your time with.”

          If your premise is correct and there are better things to spend your time on, then it sounds like you should stop paying attention to these articles. I think you’ll be happier, healthier, and won’t be as angry anymore. It is amazing how little impact such events have on our lives. And, really, these things are not about you or me.

          Otherwise, until we are in a post-monetary economy, don’t expect events like these to go away.

          Joe

  • jfutral

    What’s kind of interesting is that both sides in the public debate and journalistic and blogosphere writings talk like this is the only time such court battles have occurred. Maybe it is new to the smartphone industry, but it would be interesting to compare this to other industries that have utilized design patents and subsequent court cases, like the soft drink industry and Coca-Cola and their bottles, the sports equipment industry (think Ping), or the fashion industry.

    Joe

  • Canucker

    Being the devils advocate, Samsung could argue that since their advertizing was so ineffective (see the AppleInsider piece where only 16% of Galaxy tab advert viewers thought it was a Samsung device: http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/12/08/08/half_of_the_tv_audience_mistook_samsung_galaxy_tab_for_ipad_in_ads.html ) that Samsung actually helped Apple sell more iPads.

    It’s not a question of convergent evolution as Samsung is claiming (i.e. they evolved to the same solutions), its molecular mimicry – the biological equivalent of copying.

  • budanski
  • Jurassic

    A word to Samsung supporters: Apple did NOT try to patent the “rectangle” (obviously!), but what Apple DID DO is patent their unique hardware and UI designs, as well as functional “utility” technologies.

    These are the things that Samsung clearly copied, the patents they infringed, and the reason why Apple has taken Samsung to court.

    • Disappointed Neeson

      Expect a few ignorant commenters who will try to disprove your statement without any knowledge of the subject matter, patent laws, or pretty much anything in general…YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! 😛

  • James Katt

    Samsung = Blatant Evil Copyist.

    That 132-page Internal Document is a step-by-step guide to copying Apple. It is the smoking gun.

    Samsung = Guilty.

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