Friday, August 24th 2012 could have just as well been a Friday the 13th to Samsung Corporations, or Doomsday, Armageddon, whichever word you think best applies to the very dark and somewhat unexpected fate the company was hurled into.
After over a year of legal battle in various countries of the world and an insurmountable amount of legal and technical documents, it took three days and nine jurors to order Samsung, the biggest (in every sense) enterprise in Korea, to pay 1.05 billion USD to Apple, now the juggernaut in the smart phone industry.
The Korean media has denounced the few advantages that Apple was awarded during the trial: the fact that it was held in the US, that the technical terms were too confusing for the average, non tech savvy jury to fully understand, hence leading to an unfair judgement, and that Apple put its foot down even for the round-cornered shaped rectangles patent, among others.
The Korean media however, (or any country’s media by all means) is a frequent patient of what is more popularly known as ‘selective memory’. If having the ‘homeground advantage’ acted, in fact, as an advantage to Apple for this trial, let us not forget that just a mere 20 hours before the fatal judgment, Samsung was seen as benefiting from it as well. The Korean court had decided to rule against Apple, stating Samsung did not infringe upon its patents. Also, the jury may have been ignorant and thus lost in the more convoluted world of technology, but such was the nature of the lawsuit, a jury had to be present, it was up to the lawyers to translate the technical language to a more mundane one, managing to seduce the jury to their favor. After all, law is supposedly absolute and objective, but let’s face it, the interpretations and applications have had their separate ways before.
As much as I would like a ‘Korean’ company to find its way to the global stage and be acclaimed for its high quality products, and without reference to my own Samsung Galaxy 1 phone, which is, simply, a piece of shit (but it may be that my phone was a faulty model, and I hear its successor products are performing much better), I cannot say I have been unpleasantly shocked or feel frustration at the verdict.
After all, Korea has always been more keen on imitating, finding the roundabout ways to get to the path that leads to a goal (emphasis on ‘the path that leads to the goal’, not simply to ‘the goal itself’), and doing things quickly, perhaps with some efficiency along the way as well, but, without caring for the consequences. Creativity is something much spoken of, but never really carried out. It takes time to lay the foundations for creativity, but you see, Korea does NOT have the time. A whole other debate should be dedicated to where we can trace back the tradition of ‘palli palli‘ (trans. ‘quick quick’), but needless to say, the tradition has strongly anchored its roots in the current Korean society and means to stay too. Without the time and effort to spare, all Koreans are left with is imitation. And imitation, they’ll show it to you like you’ve never seen before. Heck, they’ll even make it better than the original sometimes. Still, a copy remains a copy, and does not hold the same values, effort, time and resources invested in the original.
This is what happened to Samsung, and unfortunately for them, although they were not the first, nor the last, company to make money on copies, they are the first ones to pay the price. True, in a world where things go so fast that the inability to produce a decent product will probably bring down a company in the face of its competitors, companies may not be left with many choices. However, this doesn’t mean that Samsung had the right to make a perfect, albeit with minor differences, copy of the iPhone. I still remember how when iPhone 2 made its appearance as one of the first pioneers of the smartphone era, Samsung produced its own Galaxy S soon after. I wondered then, looking at the similar phones, why it was that Samsung, if it obviously had the technology and the resources to create a smartphone in the first place, did not create one before Apple.
The internal documents circulated within Samsung give us an insight into how Samsung worked for its smartphones. Compare with the ‘original’ and try to copy it without ‘really copying it’. A clean and blank slate does not exist for Koreans. There always has to be something someone else, who decided to invest a little bit of time, came up with, and this is the starting point. (Look at all the music audition programs frolicking on Korean TV, which all started with ‘The American Idol’). I heard another famous company urges its designers to copy other, foreign, designs, in ways that would let them off the hook, legally, instead of offering them the opportunity to come up with their own designs. (I feel it would be safer not to divulge that other company).
It is clearly illegal, everybody knows it, but hey, it’s Korea, there’s nothing that a little word from someone here or a little drinking session over there can’t fix. Unfortunately, when you’ve decided to ‘mess with’ a huge global conglomerate such as Apple, those sideways do not work anymore.
I personally think it was a ‘good lesson’ taught to Samsung, the company that thinks of itself as above the law, and to its owners, Lee Kun Hee and his family, who have succeeded in evading prison bars for a very long time, for what clearly constituted crimes. Yes, it’s a good blow, a welcome one, for the company whose labor conditions are widely known to be inhumane and drive its employees to incurable diseases and hence death. Sadly, I guess the ones who will really pay the price will be the employees of Samsung on a lower level.
Nevertheless, this war over patents, and on a larger scale, over innovation, cannot be seen as bringing a favorable wind to the industry or to the consumers.
To be continued:
Innovation at a price, Apple as the new unbeatable dictator in the smartphone world and the consumers paying the price at the other end.