At best, a legal battle between high-tech giants Apple and Samsung is nothing more than a case involving questions of patent law. At worst, tech experts say the outcome could have far-reaching consequences on African American and Hispanic consumers’ access the Internet.
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The fight began in 2011, when Apple sued Samsung in Northern California’s U.S. District Court, alleging that the South Korean company copied some of its mobile device technology. In the end, Apple won the case and was awarded nearly $1 billion in damages, though the presiding judge, Lucy Koh, noted that Samsung’s patent infringement was not willful.
But Apple apparently was not satisfied. In a trial that kicked off last week, an expert testified that Apple is entitled to $2.2 billion in damages from Samsung for infringing on five of its patents because the breach occurred during a time of precipitous growth for the smartphone market, the Wall Street Journal reports.
If Apple succeeds, the decision could curb consumers’ options in the booming mobile device market, experts say. But more than that, it could further widen the so-called digital divide, hampering the ability of low-income individuals, including Blacks and Hispanics, to go online.
“If Apple gets everything they’re asking for, it could potentially raise the price of Samsung phones, and others as well,” Geoff A. Manne, founder and executive director of the International Center for Law and Economics (ICLE), based in Portland, Oregon, told NewsOne.
Neither attorneys for Apple or Samsung responded to NewsOne’s requests for comment by deadline.
The threat to low-income communities derives from the fact that Apple and Samsung serve separate economic markets. In the case of Apple, it produces a limited array of expensive iPhone devices sold at its stores and other high-end vendors. By contrast, Samsung offers more than 25 smartphone models that include relatively inexpensive devices sold at convenience stores and drug stores.
The availability of these low-cost smartphones, experts say, has helped provide Internet access to many low-income families who often cannot afford monthly Internet service at home or laptop and desktop computers.
A Pew Research study published in April 2012 revealed, among other things, that young adults, minorities, and individuals from low-income households are more likely than other groups to rely on their phones to gain access to the Internet.
The legal battle comes at an important time in the evolution of the mobile device industry in the United States and abroad. With the creation of the iPhone, Apple is an undisputed pioneer in the industry. But Samsung’s share of the market has grown rapidly in recent years, surpassing the Cupertino, Calif.-based giant and securing its status as chief rival in the industry.
Samsung’s Android operating system now makes up about 70 percent of the global market, the Associated Press reports. In his opening salvo, Samsung’s attorney, John Quinn, told jurors last week that Google wrote the Android software for its smartphones and tablets, He said that the smartphone operating system now makes up about 70 percent of the global market.
But Apple’s lawyer Harold McElhinny fired back in his opening statement, the AP says, urging jurors not to be misled.
“This case is not about Google,” he said. “It is Samsung that has made the decision to copy these features, it is Samsung, not Google, that chooses to put these features into their phones, and it is Samsung that has made the decision to keep on infringing on Apple’s patents.”
Google declined to comment to the AP about the controversy.
Still, some experts and business leaders argue that Apple and Samsung would have been better served consumers had they been able to reach an agreement outside of the courtroom so they could return to the business at which they excel: developing innovative products.
For his part, Harry Alford, president and chief executive officer of the National Chamber of Commerce, is one of them.
“The Chamber has been a long advocate of tort reform, or nuisance litigation,” he told NewsOne. “This suit is trying to keep the consumer from having the best technology at an affordable price. And the technology opens doors for the underserved in the Black and Hispanic communities. That’s really what they should be focused on.”