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The commercial success of Apple’s iPhone 5 may indicate that Apple is taking over the world, but the world is fighting back. While over a thousand people lined up at Apple’s 5th Avenue store to buy the new iPhone on Friday, litigants are lining up to stake their claim against the technology giant. Apple is dealing with disputes from South Korea, China, and now, potentially Switzerland.
Samsung, a South Korean corporation and purveyor of Google’s Android phones, has accepted Apple’s challenge to engage in worldwide patent warfare as the two battle for the top spot in the smartphone market. Though Apple may have started the fight in an attempt to reduce competition, Samsung and other competitors are digging deep into their patent files and fighting back with all they have. In August alone, sometimes Samsung won, as they did in Japan, and sometimes they lost—one billion dollars—as they did in California. Even when Samsung had the home court advantage, South Korea walked a neutral line, deciding that Apple violated two of Samsung’s patents while Samsung violated one of Apple’s. The Seoul Central District Court awarded small damages to both companies and banned infringing smartphones and tablets. With the release of the iPhone 5, Samsung stated it anticipates filing a motion to amend its infringement contentions to add this as an accused product. However, Samsung clearly feels that it is acting defensively. They stated, “Apple continues to take aggressive legal measures that will limit market competition. Under these circumstances, we have little choice but to take the steps necessary to protect our innovations and intellectual property rights.”
In China, Apple has a history of patent dispute issues that could potentially get worse. In July, Apple reached a settlement agreement with Proview to transfer the iPad trademark in China to Apple in exchange for $60 million. Proview had trademarked “IPAD,” the “internet personal access device,” and still owned the trademark even though it was no longer producing IPADs. Apple purchased Proview’s IPAD trademark in several countries in 2009, but Proview’s China branch said they never agreed to transfer the Chinese trademark. Though many say that Apple was lucky and could have been required to pay much more, this settlement opened the door to challenges from other companies. In fact, some such “piggyback” challenges have already arisen. As one commenter noted, “[t]here is virtually no limit to the number of Chinese companies that could have legitimate claims against Apple trademarks. What will happen when they hear about these lawsuits?”
Even peaceful Switzerland wants in on the fun. SBB, Switzerland’s national railway, alleged that Apple’s new clock design featured in iOS 6 infringes on the iconic clock design in SBB stations. SBB has not run to the courts yet and is instead seeking an amicable, out of court agreement with Apple. SBB is emphasizing that they are not seeking money, and are in fact flattered that such a high-profile company has picked up their design, and instead seek a contract that puts limits and conditions on the logo’s use.
As another tech giant, Bill Gates, said: “with great wealth comes great responsibility.” The success of Apple’s products—and the aggressive tactics of its own legal department—are attracting the attention of companies all over the world and they are now holding Apple responsible for its patent and trademark infringements. How Apple sets the stage with these earlier cases might affect the volume of challenges they face in the future as well as public perception of the company – as litigious or cooperative.
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