Unless you've been living under a rock, you know about the $1 billion in damages that a jury awarded to Apple, in the case of Apple versus Samsung. Simply put, Apple sued Samsung for patent infringement and won. There is always an appeals process to wait for, but as of now it looks like the courts have declared Samsung to be thieves, and Apple to be inventors.
What does all this mean to the industry? And what does it mean to Research In Motion and BlackBerry?
I think it's a clear sign that outright copying won't be tolerated. The evidence that Apple produced, showing how Samsung copied them, was compelling.
Some of this relates to the look and feel of devices, meaning that Samsung has to shoulder the blame. But some of it, such as multitouch gestures like pinch to zoom, relate to the user interface which could be Android OS issues, not necessarily specific to Samsung. My understanding of patent law is that Apple could sue a vendor (such as Samsung) for deploying infringing technology (Android OS) created by someone else (Google). It's up to the vendor to establish that its products to not use components (hardware and software) that infringe upon another company's rights.
The verdict is clearly bad for Samsung. They've been caught copying. This can only tarnish their reputation. But the verdict could also be bad for Android. If Apple launches a legal assault on Google over what it believes are copied elements of the Android OS, it could slow Google's progress and slow down adoption of the OS by customers.
Naturally, that would be good news for Apple. But it would also be good news for RIM. I am not saying it's amazing news that will double their market share overnight or anything like that. It's just clear that any slowdown by a competitor is good news for everyone else. RIM is included in that list. So is Microsoft.
RIM has a track record for designing unique hardware. The look and feel of a RIM device is like no other. It has always been that way with RIM. From the jog wheel to the bezels to the modern fretted keyboard, RIM is an original in this game. And that still looks to be the case as we wait for the launch of BlackBerry 10.
RIM has intentionally designed a BB10 UI that is completely different from Android and iOS. In fact, RIM has a track record for avoiding the use of competitor's IP since the NTP lawsuit many moons ago. Just read this forum thread for the evidence.
But what about pinch to zoom? One of the patents that Apple successfully enforced (so far) against Samsung involves the capability to zoom in with this now-universal multitouch gesture.
Should RIM and everyone else be worried that Apple is coming for its pound of flesh, or even refuses to license its patent altogether? Maybe. But I can't see Apple successfully owning the rights to the concept of pinch to zoom. They just don't seem to have invented it.
The following TED video illustrates pinch to zoom as being "prior art" quite clearly. This phrase (prior art) just means evidence that one party invented a technology before another. If there is valid prior art, a patent won't stand up.
But patents are not about concepts. Pinch to zoom is a concept. It's a description of how you use your fingers to zoom in. You can't patent a description, or a way of using your fingers. You must patent a process. For example, you might patent the method of sensing multi-touch inputs, or the method of calculating a zoom percentage based on finger movement.
I haven't analyzed Apple's patent for pinch to zoom. I'm not a patent expert by any stretch of my imagination. So let's pretend that Apple's patent is valid, and describes a specific way to accomplish pinch to zoom. If that's the case, chances are it can be designed around, and chances are good that RIM (and others) have already used a different implementation. In other words, I doubt we'll see any court battles between RIM and Apple on this capability.