How Kool is it to be Kool?

The “dog-eat-dog” world of technology witnessed a legal ruling with a slight twist on 9 July 2012 during the case of Samsung Electronics (UK) Limited v Apple Inc [2012] EWHC 1882 (Pat). The dispute between Media Titans, Samsung and Apple, came to an end last week after a clash over the legitimacy of Samsung’s Galaxy tablets. The proceedings had been founded upon allegations that consumers would confuse the tablets for Apple’s highly acclaimed iPad due to cosmetic similarities. Indeed, the case focused entirely on appearance, with Judge Colin Birss applying Mr Justice Mann’s statement from Rolawn Ltd v Turfmech Machinery Ltd [2008] EWHC 989 (Pat):

One of the problems with words is that it is hard to use them in this sphere in a way which avoids generalisation. But what matters is visual appearance, and that is not really about generalities.

The basis for Apple’s claim was dismissed by Judge Birss in the High Court of Justice, leaving Samsung to revel in their success. However, this success was somewhat tarnished by the ruling given by Judge Birss. He stated that there was no design breach because Samsung’s tablets “do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design”. He went on to conclude that “they are not as cool”. Whilst a rare phenomenon, it cannot be satisfying to win a case based on the fact your product is inferior! In the light of Judge Birss’ comments going public, one might predict a reduction in Galaxy tablet sales and, possibly, an increase in Apple’s iPad sales.

However, this would most probably be a farfetched statement to make. The difference in price between the two products is around £65, whilst the only real physical disparities lie in the Samsung tablets slightly thicker build along with “unusual details” on the back. Moreover, one would not expect the Court ruling itself to factor into the consumer mindset when choosing to purchase one of the two products.

It is probably no saving grace for Samsung that Apple may be harming its global reputation by pursuing a simultaneous dispute against HTC over the copyright design of their mobile phones. For Apple, it is just one more step on the ladder towards over-arching dominance in the media sphere. Samsung’s victory in Court has allowed them to take advantage of a £61 million bond at Apple’s expense. Yet, once again, this is probably of no comfort to Samsung given their rivals were estimated to be worth over £65 billion last year.