The Apple-Samsung verdict: A “win” for Windows Phone, but will it really matter?

android Featured Opinion A verdict was reached in the Apple-Samsung US federal patent lawsuit late today, and Samsung was found to have, in some circumstances willfully, infringed on patents held by Apple in some of its Android mobile devices.  The jury awarded Apple just over $1 Billion, with potentially a lot bigger award coming as the Judge Lucy Koh could award up to triple damages for the willful infringements.

A number of blog posts today pointed to Microsoft and Windows Phone as “winners” in the case, and while any attempt to slow Android down could be seen as a win, a connection between this verdict and potential Windows Phone sales is thin at best, at least this early.

Make no mistake, while Apple and Samsung were the ones in court, this suit is and always was about going after Android, the “open source” mobile operating system created by Google.  In a post today entitled “A Verdict That Alters an Industry”, the New York Times quotes a University of California law professor on what the decision means for Android:

While Google is not involved in this case, Apple was clearly going after Android all along, said Robert P. Merges, professor of law and technology at University of California Berkeley School of Law. If other handset makers using Android fear that Apple will take them on and win, might they shy away from Android? “There are a lot more players in the Android world who could be involved in the future in litigation,” he said. “And it’s going to raise the cost of everyone in the Android system if the damages stick.”

Shifting to a less popular software system, like Windows or even Research in Motion’s operating system expected to arrive next year, gives Apple an advantage in the marketplace.“It’s not good news for Google,” Mr. Merges said. “Apple’s real target is the Android ecosystem, the Android world, everything having to do with Androids. That’s really what they are targeting here.”

But while this verdict and its aftermath might well make OEMs think twice about using Google’s “free” software in the future, Samsung sold $5.8 Billion worth of Android devices in just its last quarter, and almost no matter what the courts say, Android isn’t going away anytime soon. 

In fact, it could be said that Google knew full well that things may come to this, but realized that the benefits of upending the industry could potentially far outweigh any pesky lawsuits that might arise (especially since it would most likely be the hardware manufacturers or the carriers, that is, the ones directly making money, who would get sued).  Meanwhile, Google could slow down Apple (and oh, by the way, Microsoft, too), gain a bigger mobile foothold for Google search, and maybe even disrupt the US patent process while it was at it.

Meanwhile, it could be argued that Microsoft figured that with all its patents, it didn’t need to move quickly and boldly in the mobile marketplace, and allowed Apple and then especially Android to leave it in the dust.  Microsoft may have been in the right in the eyes of the Patent Office, but Apple moved first, and Google took advantage of the situation, consequences be damned.

And even with a billion dollar verdict, the consequences just aren’t that dire.  It’s far more likely that Samsung and the other manufacturers using Android will just pay a license and a fine and keep right on going.  The thought that Windows Phone will see some huge surge in either immediate sales or new partnerships is probably not much more than wishful thinking.

Could Microsoft benefit from today’s verdict?  Eventually, of course it could, and probably will, to some degree.  Will the verdict sell any Windows Phones tomorrow, next week, or even next year?  That’s more doubtful, and hopefully Microsoft has learned a lesson and will rely on innovation and speed to market and less on a pile of patents to hide behind as it tries to catch up to both Apple and Android.