A jury ruling in Apple’s favour over Samsung in the United States District Court1 could have a chilling effect on rivals, and leave them scrambling for alternatives to common touch-screen gestures used in consumer electronic devices. The jury found Samsung violated six Apple patents. In particular, three of these patents cover common touch-screen effects:  

  • US Patent 7,469,381 covers the bounce-back effect when a user tries to scroll beyond the end of a list or image.
  • US Patent 7,844,915 covers the pinch-to-zoom and one-fingered scrolling gesture effects.
  • US Patent 7,864,163 covers the tap-to-zoom and center gesture effects.  

The awarded $1.05 billion has had a chilling effect on Samsung’s stock price, and may significantly limit its access to the US marketplace. While Samsung will appeal, Apple has indicated that it will seek an injunction against Samsung to further limit Samsung’s ability to maintain its market share.

Interestingly, the corresponding Canadian patent to Patent 7,469,381 issued just a few weeks ago and the corresponding Canadian patent to US Patent 7,864,163 is still pending. However there is no corresponding application in Canada for US Patent 7,844,915. It is possible that Apple will try to leverage the US decision to enforce its patents in Canada and elsewhere. While Apple does not have patent coverage in Canada for some inventions protected in the US, the nature of the global consumer electronics market will make it difficult for competitors to take advantage of this without access to the potential revenue provided by the US marketplace.

Samsung will not suffer alone. All software designers are now faced with the challenge of developing alternatives to these common touch-screen gestures. However it is reported that Samsung has already created design-arounds for some of the patented features. However delays and awkward fixes may be expected in the near future from competitors, as they scramble to create software workarounds. This ruling could hamper smartphone innovation because it is difficult to envision how a non-Apple smartphone can be competitive without using these now-common and intuitive touch-screen effects. Some in the media have argued that the decision will actually accelerate innovation as designers are forced to explore new solutions. Time will tell.