Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Why Apple sued Samsung

August 28, 2012: 2:58 PM ET

It wasn't for the money. Or to ban the sales of smartphones whose shelf life had expired.

There's more than one way to send a signal

FORTUNE -- "Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. makes for powerful courtroom drama. Calling it drama, however, is faint praise. It's entertaining and thrilling but the effects are shallow and they don't last."

So began Asymco's Horace Dediu in a post Tuesday that listed six reasons he has no faith in litigation as a solution to a tech company's problems:

1) legal processes are glacial, and tend to take longer than the lives of the products being litigated
2) the law is ambiguous
3) the world is too big to enforce the results
4) the financial awards are arbitrary
5) the technicalities are bafflingly complex
6) it is so costly only companies with legal hit squads can afford it.

But in the end, Dediu comes around to what I believe is the real reason Apple (AAPL) sued Samsung (and Motorola and HTC): to send a signal.

"Signal to competitors, partners, customers and employees. In other words, they are used to create psychological effects."

Dediu believes there are better ways to send signals -- through advertising, say, or the products themselves.

But Apple had a different kind of signal to send, one that couldn't be delivered in an ad.

The real reason Apple sued Samsung, I believe, is the one The Loop's Jim Dalrymple laid out in early August, before the trial began.

"Apple has a purpose for everything it does, including this lawsuit," he wrote in a piece entitled Apple's motivation for suing Samsung

Here's how Dalrymple saw it:

There can be no doubt that Apple has some clever, perhaps industry changing products in the pipeline over the next few years.

Although none us know for sure what those products are, if they are truly disruptive, like the iPhone and iPad, it's in Apple's best interests to stop Samsung now. This will effectively cut off the worst offender of companies copying its products in their tracks.

Of course, winning the lawsuit will also stop all of the other competitors from copying their designs.

Apple's latest two industry changing products, the iPhone and iPad, have been shamelessly copied for years. Yes, it's true that the company has lost a significant amount of revenue — estimated at $2.5 billion in the trial — but let's face it, that's pocket change for Apple who has $100 billion or so in the bank.

I believe that Apple's future products are going to change the industry so much, Apple has to put a stop to Samsung now.

That's Apple's motive for suing Samsung.

That sounds about right to me.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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