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.
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 over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.