Patent wars and tablets in the enterprise

Patrick Gray takes a look at the recent Apple vs. Samsung patent wars and what it means for tablet adoption in the enterprise.

Some element of closure finally came in the long-running patent battle between rivals Apple and Samsung, with Samsung being found guilty of infringing on 21 Apple patents. While many are breathing a sigh of relief that the worst is over, Apple has asked for an injunction against offending devices, which would require Samsung stop selling the offending models in the United States. Pending litigation around the world also offers an uncertain future for various models in other countries, with South Korea recently demanding that several older iPhone models be removed from local stores for violating patents in that country. For IT leaders, not only must we carefully evaluate a platform's features and functionality, but we must now determine whether it will be modified or even removed from circulation due to legal battles.

For enterprise technologists, this battle marks another case where IT is unwittingly dragged into legal drama. We've witnessed this before with Sarbanes-Oxley, and now legal wrangling outside our control may affect critical enterprise devices. In the case of Apple vs. Samsung, most of the offending patents were around software. This presents a bit of a mixed bag: while software can certainly be modified to remove the offending features and thus keep the hardware "legal," users may be subjected to devices that change on a weekly basis, based on courtroom action. Several of the Apple patents that were upheld related to basic scrolling functionality and navigation, areas that are sure to confuse users when changed.

Radioactive Google?

Steve Jobs famously quipped that he wanted to go to "thermonuclear war" with Google based on his perception that the Android operating system was a wholesale rip-off of Apple's iOS. Apple's recent legal victory has all the makings of the first ICBM launch in that battle, with Apple now having a tool to block sales of popular Android devices and a legal precedent for attacking other hardware companies that choose Android. While Android has shown potential in an enterprise setting and offers more customization and enterprise functionality than iOS, the tenuous legal situation may hamstring adoption.

Could the patent wars foster innovation?

The silver lining in the ongoing patent battles is that, paradoxically, they may foster innovation and potentially dethrone Apple in the mobile market. Most of Apple's competitors have repeatedly come out with "me too" devices that emulate the hardware and software design of the company, but usually at a lower price point.

Industry stalwart Microsoft took a different tack by producing an unconventional user interface that's unlike any current offering. While Microsoft's success in the tablet market remains to be seen, threat of a lawsuit may provide the motivation for Google and others to pursue radically different hardware and software.

What's a poor CIO to do?

Short of becoming an expert on patent litigation, the recent patent wars do little to shift the high-level strategy for enterprise tablet adoption. Apple is the current market leader, and the patent wars might provide some comfort in adopting iOS, but it's still too early to crown Apple as the enterprise tablet of choice. Rather than agonizing over device choices, look for critical applications and data that would benefit from mobile access and devise a strategy that makes them available to a variety of platforms. Build business logic and data validation into your enterprise or cloud applications to allow for flexibility in a presentation layer that might be an Android phone today, an Apple tablet next week, or a Microsoft device next year.


Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

stupid and idiotic the US patent system has become. Most of what was be fought over in court should NEVER have been accepted as a patent. However, now that the courts have joined in, what we will see is a very heavy handed stifling of innovation by the big proprietary players like Apple and Microsoft as they do all in their power to stifle all opposition on any BS patent claim they can push into court.


The winner of the tablet wars in the enterprise is the one with the best MDM solution, easiest to manage, remote wipe, manage apps, etc. Having said that, I don't think the BYOD revolution will ever die....suggesting broad enterprise computing standards applied across multiple tablet types.


One thing enterprises can do is purchase HTML5 UI based apps that are really tablet agnostic..this gives them the chance to let the tablet market sort itself out. Some innovative enterprise software companies like MyOVS are creating HTML5 enterprise apps with a JQuery mobile framework allowing CSS optimization for a specific tablet screen size and type. These apps integrate back to ERP data, transactions; very high value. If and when there is a tablet winner, the HTML5 based app can be ported to any native mobile platform with standard tools. Check out @myovs

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