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Apple-Samsung court battle part of larger war between Apple, Google

By Brandon Bailey, San Jose Mercury News –

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Score this round in the battle for world domination: Apple 1, Google 0.

While Apple won a billion-dollar jury verdict last week in a patent dispute with Samsung, experts say the trial was just one front in a broader war between the Cupertino, Calif., computer-maker and its Mountain View, Calif., rival, Google, whose Android mobile software outranks Apple’s as the world’s leading smartphone platform.

The jury’s verdict is widely seen as a setback for the “Android ecosystem” of hardware manufacturers, including Samsung, and application developers who use Google’s mobile software. But it’s not a death blow, according to industry experts, who say the outcome won’t end a growing rivalry between Apple and Google that extends from smartphones to online maps, books, videos and even tools for seeking information online.

“Samsung is just collateral damage,” said Roger Kay, a longtime industry analyst. “I think Apple’s going to try to use this victory as a way to beat on Google further.”

Android’s success is vastly important to Google, which developed the software as part of its strategy for delivering lucrative advertising, information and services to the growing numbers of people who use smartphones and tablets instead of personal computers to go online. Analysts say any blow to Android is a threat to Google’s ability to keep pace with the mobile computing trend.

A nine-member jury in San Jose’s federal court concluded Friday that several of Samsung’s Android-based devices infringed some of Apple’s patented designs and technology. Some experts say the verdict could force Samsung or other manufacturers to change their products or even negotiate licensing payments with Apple. But several analysts also said that’s unlikely to stop manufacturers from using Android.

The verdict “is unambiguously negative for Google and the Android ecosystem,” Bernstein Research analyst A.M. Sacconaghi wrote in a report Monday, adding that the outcome is likely to “embolden Apple’s legal strategy” against other smartphone and tablet-makers.

“That said, we don’t think it’s a game-changing loss for Android,” he added, because the verdict only affects certain older Samsung models sold in the U.S. market, while Android is used in a wide variety of gadgets sold around the world.

Despite the iPhone’s phenomenal success, the number of smartphones sold by all manufacturers using Android is even larger. Android has become so popular, in part, because Google doesn’t charge device-makers to use the software, which can lower the price for consumers, too. Google makes money by selling ads and targeting services to consumers who use its software, although it closely guards the details of its mobile revenue stream.

Several analysts said it shouldn’t be difficult for Samsung and other smartphone makers to alter designs and replace features that infringe on Apple’s patents.

“None of these patents are impossible to work around,” said Van Baker, a mobile technology expert at the Gartner research firm. “This won’t require anyone to go back and completely redefine their products.”

Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs, launched a series of patent infringement lawsuits against Samsung and other Android device-makers after famously complaining that he felt Google had copied Apple’s iPhone. Jobs vowed to wage “thermonuclear war” to destroy Android, even though Google maintains it developed Android independently.

While Apple applauded the jury Friday for protecting its intellectual property, Google issued a statement Sunday that essentially cautioned against reading too much into the decision.

“The court of appeals will review both infringement and the validity of the patent claims. Most of these don’t relate to the core Android operating system, and several are being re-examined by the U.S. Patent Office,” a Google spokesman said. “The mobile industry is moving fast, and all players — including newcomers — are building upon ideas that have been around for decades.”

Some observers believe the flurry of lawsuits over mobile software patents will end only when all parties agree to financial settlements, in which some companies agree to pay royalties for others’ technology.

Faced with the prospect of paying royalties for using Android, manufacturers might consider switching to software made by Microsoft or someone else, Sacconaghi wrote. But that seems unlikely, he added, since Android is already popular with so many consumers.

Manufacturers will also hesitate to abandon Android’s deep inventory of software applications that run on its platform, he noted. Android has far more apps than Microsoft, though still fewer than Apple.

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