Consumers to pay more as phone wars go nuclear

Apple wins $1bn damages from Samsung over copyright infringements, a ruling that could lead to less competition

Apple's billion-dollar legal victory over Samsung in the latest round of the global smartphone "clone wars" has divided experts over whether ordinary customers will benefit from the two technology giants' battle for supremacy.

A court in the United States has ordered Samsung to pay the massive damages to the iPhone maker after finding that the South Korean company had infringed Apple's software and design patents.

Samsung has said it will appeal. It described the decision as "not a win for Apple, but a loss for the consumer". "It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation and potentially higher prices. This is not the final word in this case or in battles being waged in courts around the world," a spokesman said.

The jury found Samsung had copied Apple innovations such as the pinch and zoom touchscreen capability and the rubber-band-like "bounce back" effect when users hit the foot of a page.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said: "We chose legal action very reluctantly and only after repeatedly asking Samsung to stop copying our work. For us this has always been about something much more important than patents or money. It's about values. We value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on earth. And we do this to delight our customers, not for competitors to flagrantly copy."

Legal experts and technology analysts say the ruling is one of the most significant in a global battle over patents and intellectual property but are split over whether consumers will benefit.

The verdict strengthens Apple's hand as it seeks to discourage Samsung and competitors from making devices that mimic the iPhone. While it's a blow to Samsung and its software partner Google Inc, some observers believe it will lead to broader range of devices. "This is a big win for Apple," US analyst Carl Howe told Bloomberg. "It's good for innovation. It says that if you create something new, others can't just piggyback on it. From a competition point of view, it says create your own stuff. It says copying is not OK."

David Lazarus, a technology expert for the Los Angeles Times, said: "In the short term, for consumers, it means fewer copycat devices hitting the market and less price competition. And that would almost inevitably mean Apple or any other innovator would be able to charge whatever it thinks it can get away with. Over the long haul, strict patent enforcement can promote innovation, which in turn can result in cool new products coming to market."

Other experts questioned its benefits. Andy Ihnatko, a technology journalist, said: "The biggest losers here are consumers. If the verdict stands, then the costs of the judgment will be reflected in the cost of mobile devices." R Jagannathan, editor of tech website Firstpost.com, said: "Apple's rivals will have to invest more in innovation, which means higher costs."

The two companies, which account for more than half of the global $200bn smartphone market, are fighting a series of legal battles in at least 30 other countries.

Apple's legal fight was started by its late founder, Steve Jobs. Before his death from cancer in October last year, Jobs said: "I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40bn in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

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