Friday, October 19, 2012

Apple vs. Samsung verdict: Is this also a win for the Human Computer Interaction design community?

August 24th was a landmark victory for Apple vs. Samsung over patent-infringement. The jury found the majority of Samsung smartphones and tablets guilty of infringing on a number of Apple patents, and recommended that Apple be awarded $1.05 billion in damages. The patents Samsung infringed and violated include [1]
  • All phones and tablets on the screen bounce-back patent
  • Pinch and zoom patent with all but three devices
  • The front of the iPhone for all but one phone
  • The home screen for all phones
The victory of Apple reminds me of the Apple Computer, Inc. vs. Microsoft Corporation lawsuit in 1994 (lawsuit was filed in 1988, lasted four years and was affirmed for appeal in 1994) over a copyright infringement. At that time Apple was looking to prevent Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard from using visual graphical user interface (GUI) elements that were similar to those in Apple's Lisa and Macintosh operating systems. However, Apple lost that lawsuit. The court also pointed out that many of Apple's claims failed on an originality basis. The court ruled that, "Apple cannot get patent-like protection for the idea of a graphical user interface or the idea of a desktop metaphor [under copyright law]..."[2]
Since then GUI technology has changed, and patenting the user interface innovation is nothing more than patenting common sense. Indeed, discovering common sense or intuitive approach requires a lot of research and effort.
Thus two questions one might ask: 
  • Was the Apple vs. Microsoft ruling good for users? or
  • Is protecting innovation in GUI and visual design most beneficial for users?
Samsung, along with some analysts claim that the ruling will bring the price of the devices up for customers and customers will not benefit from innovations. 
Yet looking at the aftermath of Apple’s loss to Microsoft on the GUI lawsuit does not seem to confirm this prediction. In fact from 1994 to 2007 no significant innovations happened from a usability perspective and prices were not much affected.  Most cell phones were copying each other with the same basic interfaces and successive releases with minor changes forced the user to change their device every six months. The laptops continued to be the same old design and interface until the concept of the iPad was introduced.  
In user experience and human computer interaction, the discovery of a user friendly and intuitive design is not an easy task. Finding an “obvious” or “intuitive” way is easy to recognize but hard to find. It requires motivation, vision, perseverance and research to find the best solution for a product, something that requires money, time, and most importantly the belief that better user experiences can create product success in the marketplace.
It might be quite easy to copy the innovations of another and be successful, but one only achieves a real success when they invest and innovate user experiences that simplify and change the lives of millions people. Perhaps this new ruling will have encouraging effects for more innovations.
A. M.

[1] Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. et al., C 11-1846 & C 12-0630

[2] Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation, 35 F.3d 1435 (9th Cir. 1994).

Published in ergonomics in design