Apple Patent Win Leaves Unclear Implications For Mobile Marketing

Samung-Gavel-ADays after a California jury awarded Apple over $1 billion in damages over patent infringements, experts can’t seem to decide what -- if any -- effect the decision will have on the smartphone market, let alone mobile marketing. The jury found on Friday that Samsung violated six of seven disputed patents involving some of the most common touch interface maneuvers, including pinch and zoom and tap-to-enlarge.

A roundup of investment analysts by CNNMoney found decidedly mixed responses. The oft-quoted Apple watcher from Piper Jaffray Gene Munster says there should not be substantial changes in the market, as Samsung will have to find workarounds to the patents. The larger worry voiced by analysts this weekend is whether the court win will impede Google Android development. Munster says: “We do not believe further settlements are likely to hamstring Android in any serious way.”

Other analysts presume that some protracted negotiations among Samsung, Google and Apple will have to take place over some of the patents that were validated by the decision. The verdict could prompt other manufacturers to think twice or thrice before deploying new hardware and spend more time ensuring their products are not violating Apple’s hold on certain features.

The Apple verdict helps underscore just how patent-heavy the mobile economy has become. Almost every imaginable aspect of mobile app, interface, ad targeting and creative units and m-commerce operations on smartphones has some patent claim attached to it -- even if few have been tested in court.

Ken Willner, CEO of mobile content and advertising platform Zumobi, tells Mobile Marketing Daily: “This case really underscores the significant role that intellectual property will play in our industry going forward. Having a valuable mobile IP portfolio can provide both ‘shield and sword’ to companies trying to compete in a comprehensive way across the mobile media ecosystem. It will be interesting to see how this judgment may alter the trajectories of many companies who rely on the distribution leverage that these larger players have provided.”

In one sense the verdict could embolden patent holders to press their case. Will Kassoy, CEO of Mobile video ad platform AdColony, adds: “As a company that employs patents to protect our mobile technology, I’m thrilled because it supports innovation, which is a core mission and value for our company.” And yet decisions that uphold patents can also discourage technological evolution. “I also feel it’s important for courts to examine patent cases extremely carefully to ensure that they are not overly broad and impeding innovation.”

The impact of Apple’s patent wins on the mobile marketing landscape may be subtle but noticeable over the long term, says Digitas Mobile Lead Chia Chen. He does not see brands immediately curtailing their investment in Android. “In the longer term, however, it’s going to introduce more uncertainty around Android as an app development platform,” he says. The impact ultimately comes in the added effort it may take to design around the additional inconsistencies that may emerge on Android devices for an OS that is already more fragmented than Apple’s.

Chen says, “a developer knows that every single Apple device is going to handle users attempting to scroll past the end of a page the same way. But that's not going to be the case necessarily on Android devices. That's because Apple has patented that experience as it works today on iOS devices and because there are so many variants of Android in existence. So if you're an app developer who really cares about the user experience, then it's going to make you think a little longer and plan a little more to develop an Android version of an app.”

When contacted for reaction to the verdict, Google did not have a comment this weekend. But Chen suggests that ironically, the decision could ultimately help Android ease the fragmentation problem and get more users onto a single version of the OS.

In its early stages Google appealed to hardware OEMs and carriers by emphasizing the open nature of the Android OS, allowing for third parties to customize the interface and experience in countless ways. But since the market has begun to fragment across multiple versions of the OS, creating confusion for developers and consumers, Google has been struggling to get the supply chain behind less versioning of the OS. “Oddly, the decision in the Apple-Samsung case might make the carriers more open to that as they don't want to be a party to future lawsuits about the OS,” says Chen. 

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