Less than a month has gone by since a California court gave the verdict for the “patent trial of the century”, where Apple seemingly came out as the winner over Samsung. This highly publicized trial has caught the attention of experts (the real ones, not the pundits you can find on every social network these days) and the average consumer alike.

What exactly are the patent wars, and what do they mean to you and me?

I suppose that, taking into consideration the hullabaloo surrounding Apple and Samsung in the recent times, it is understandable to think of the two names when patent wars are brought up. The truth of the matter, however, is that the patent wars go way beyond the two big names in mobile devices.

Visualize the battlefield

Take a look at this handy visualization that visual.ly has created. It covers both the suing and selling grounds, and as you can see, there is more to the patent wars than Apple and Samsung.

Patent Wars Infographic

Patent Wars

Design and functionality

When talking about patent wars, there is the need to point out the distinction between design and functionality. This is exactly what David Hsu, management professor at Wharton, explained in a recent interview.

He pointed out that in the recent case of Apple and Samsung, some of the bones of contention were centered on design elements rather than functionality. He says:

A number of them were on the design side, so it’s not protecting the functionality of the innovation, but rather the packaging of it. And then a few of the others did not go to the core of the operating system, but were about some of the more design-oriented aspects, [such as] the [feature in which pages viewed on Apple’s iOS operating system “bounce back” into place when a user reaches the top or bottom] or the array of the icons on the grid.

That is not to say, however, that function-related patent issues are of the past. The bottom line is that manufacturers want to protect their creations, both in relation to design and function. And you can’t totally blame them!

Effects of the patent wars

On the one hand, one can say that Apple won this round with the ruling. On the other hand, in the “consumer court”, Apple might have lost points. How this will play out remains to be seen.

Professor Hsu also stated in the same interview that he thinks the patent wars will result in a broadening of the landscape, that is, competition will have a window of opportunity – no matter how small that may be at the present – to make an impact on the market.

Not everyone thinks the same way, though, as even Google has voiced out concerns about the situation, saying that the wars only serve to stifle innovation. Of course, we cannot discount the fact that they are a player in the patent wars!

At the end of the day, consumers will be affected by these wars simply because of the choices that will available to us as a result of rulings. So what is your take? Does the patent wars make sense? Will it help broaden the landscape, or will it only serve to stifle innovation?