Yesterday, a verdict came down in the long, long line of Apple vs. Samsung patent disputes. But before you go thinking this is some huge deal, it's important to note that nothing's really solved and nothing will change. And that's fitting, since this is just a giant fanboy fight.
This is a patent fight but it isn't just about patents. No. It's about justice. You don't have to look far to find comments right from the parties involved that escalate the importance of this legal battle right up to that of Right and Wrong. There is, of course, Steve Jobs' famous threat/promise of thermonuclear war, but also more recent statements, like Apple's summary of what this most recent verdict really means, as told to Re/code:
Today's ruling reinforces what courts around the world have already found: That Samsung willfully stole our ideas and copied our products. We are fighting to defend the hard work that goes into beloved products like the iPhone, which our employees devote their lives to designing and delivering for our customers.
Or alternatively, you've got what Samsung says this is actually all about: Getting even with Android. As Samsung attorney John Quinn put it in his opening remarks at this most recent suit:
Not one of the accused features on this phone, which brings us all here today, was designed, much less copied by anyone at Samsung. The accused features on this phone were developed independently by some of the most sophisticated and creative minds in the industry, the software engineers at Google.
It's a lot of idealogical weight and ulterior motives to be putting on a suit that is actually about patents covering slide-to-unlock, and a smattering of Samsung phones that are already a generation or two out of date. Kind of makes you think of folks who will claim to know a lot about a person based on their choice of mobile operating system. Still, you can't really blame any of these folks for their impassioned beliefs. These guys are professional fanboys.
But whatever the argument is "really" about, the sums for actual patent part are still massive. Last time around Samsung got hit for $1 billion—though appeals and such threw some of that into question—and this time Apple was pushing for $2 billion.
But for such a loud and epic clash of titans, the end result is less than earth-shattering. Time goes so far as to call it a whimper. Despite a $119 million verdict in its favor (minus $158,000 Samsung managed to win) there's actually quite little for Apple to celebrate. As Re/code so cleverly puts it, there's no dancing in the streets of Cupertino; what Apple's gained in pride and cash by pulling out a win pales in comparison to the money Samsung is making by continuing to juggernaut along with its army of wildly successful Android phones that have since shed the design details that got them into this patent mess in the first place.
$119 million sounds like a lot of money—it is a lot of money—but in context it's hardly a sum that can affect any real change. Samsung is a company with a marketing budget that floats in the $14 billion range. Apple is a company with over $150 billion in cash on hand. An injunction on the sales of a phone might cause a little bit more of a stir, but that's that's not going to happen. As professor Michael Carrier at Rutgers Law School told Reuters, "An injunction is extremely unlikely. The Federal Circuit sets a high bar."
Short of a verdict with a few more zeros on the end, or an injunction that blocks the sale of a hot, current flagship phone, Apple and Samsung are just scratching at each other while screaming for dramatic effect. Surely you've seen a fanboy fight before, and you know first-hand how little they affect you. That is, unless you're the one scratching and screaming.
Nothing from this suit will make the Samsung Galaxy S 6 any worse at playing Candy Crush, or the iPhone 6 any better at accepting calls. We live in a world where phones have become so wildly competent that their defining characteristics are how good their batteries are, or how gaudy they look, and mixed results from a patent case deals primarily with some minor features on a few old phones will do little to change that. You can use this for fueling your own personal fire if you'd like, but that's about all it will do to change your world.
And then, of course, this isn't even the last word. There will be appeals, and more appeals, and more appeals after that. Because the battle is about so much more than patents or a paltry hundred million dollars, it's about fighting for an impossible black-and-white answer. But we all know the way fanboy arguments are destined to end: With an exasperated Whatever.