Highly nontraditional crisis management aims to influence court of public opinion
Apple and Samsung have been at war over patents since last summer, and the battle is showing no signs of cooling off. Samsung is no doubt deeply stung by its recent $1 billion loss to Apple in a U.S. court, and suits and counter-suits are still being filed and contested across nearly a dozen countries.
Not every court has sided with Apple, however. In one of the latest rulings, the High Court of England & Wales ruled that the design of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab tablets was decidedly different from Apple’s iPad. As part of that ruling, the acting judge stipulated that Apple must publish a public apology stating that Samsung did not copy its iPad. Apple of course appealed, but lost that as well and was once again ordered to publish an apology. This week Apple’s statement showed up at the very bottom of its UK website, but it’s not exactly the type of corporate mea culpa you might expect.
Take a look:
Samsung / Apple UK judgment
On 9th July 2012 the High Court of Justice of England and Wales ruled that Samsung Electronic (UK) Limited’s Galaxy Tablet Computer, namely the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Tab 8.9 and Tab 7.7 do not infringe Apple’s registered design No. 0000181607-0001. A copy of the full judgment of the Highcourt is available on the following link www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Patents/2012/1882.html.
In the ruling, the judge made several important points comparing the designs of the Apple and Samsung products:
“The extreme simplicity of the Apple design is striking. Overall it has undecorated flat surfaces with a plate of glass on the front all the way out to a very thin rim and a blank back. There is a crisp edge around the rim and a combination of curves, both at the corners and the sides. The design looks like an object the informed user would want to pick up and hold. It is an understated, smooth and simple product. It is a cool design.”
“The informed user’s overall impression of each of the Samsung Galaxy Tablets is the following. From the front they belong to the family which includes the Apple design; but the Samsung products are very thin, almost insubstantial members of that family with unusual details on the back. They do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool.”
That Judgment has effect throughout the European Union and was upheld by the Court of Appeal on 18 October 2012. A copy of the Court of Appeal’s judgment is available on the following link www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2012/1339.html. There is no injunction in respect of the registered design in force anywhere in Europe.
However, in a case tried in Germany regarding the same patent, the court found that Samsung engaged in unfair competition by copying the iPad design. A U.S. jury also found Samsung guilty of infringing on Apple’s design and utility patents, awarding over one billion U.S. dollars in damages to Apple Inc. So while the U.K. court did not find Samsung guilty of infringement, other courts have recognized that in the course of creating its Galaxy tablet, Samsung willfully copied Apple’s far more popular iPad.
Not exactly a meek apology, is it? Somewhere in its crisis management planning, Apple decided that the best thing to do would be to turn this forced apology into a major burn on Samsung, highlighting how even the judge stated that Samsung’s design was “not as cool” as the iPad.
An incredibly gutsy move, but one with the potential for severe negative repercussions. Although Apple’s lawyers undoubtedly went over the statement with a fine-toothed comb, essentially mocking a court decision is a major risk that’s surely aimed more at influencing the court of public opinion that making friends in legal circles.
The fact remains that, regardless of potential legal consequences, Apple’s fan base may as well be bedrock. Their faith and admiration for the company is unsurpassed, and this gives Apple the ability to behave like very few others. When you have supporters that will almost literally fight tooth and nail against any detractors that dare speak up, is it possible to go too far?
The BCM Blogging Team