It’s tempting, after such a sweeping verdict in Apple’s favor, to conclude that Samsung’s decision to mimic the iPhone was a terrible mistake. The firm will now be on the hook for at least $1 billion in damages, and the judge could triple that amount. Samsung will likely face sales injunctions on many of its products, and will be forced to quickly design around Apple’s patents in its current and upcoming devices, if not to pay a steep licensing fee. Other companies that took inspiration from Apple—including Motorola, HTC and, at the top of the chain, Google—will also be stung by this decision.
But if you study what’s happened in the mobile industry since 2007, a different moral emerges. It goes like this: Copying works.
Of the three paths open to tech companies in the wake of the iPhone—ignore Apple, out-innovate Apple, or copy Apple—Samsung’s decision has fared best. Yes, Samsung’s copying was amateurish and panicky, and now it will have to pay for its indiscretions. But the costs of patent infringement will fall far short of what Samsung gained by aping Apple. Over the last few years, thanks to its brilliant mimicry, Samsung became a global force in the smartphone business. This verdict will do little to roll back that success.