Apple vs. Samsung in a Patent War
Meritz Investment Bank (Korean): PDF File
A hostile patent litigation between Apple and Samsung started ever since Apple accused Samsung of copying its designs for smartphones and tablet PCs. In response, Samsung dodged back with patent lawsuits concerning the mobile technology. According to CNET News, this litigation chaos augmented into 50 lawsuits against each other in 10 different countries. Apple became wary of Samsung’s ever-increasing market share of the smartphones and tablet PCs.
A smartphone or a tablet PC market can be said to be an oligopoly. There is only a handful of firms offering the product: Apple, Samsung, HTC, Sony, and so on. It is definitely different from a PC components market where there are lots of firms providing the identical product.
As Samsung’s market power is increasing in both the smartphone and the tablet PC market, Apple has opened a Pandora’s Box by filing a lawsuit against Samsung, as it was mentioned above. This has triggered the problem of Prisoner’s Dilemma, of which the ‘players’ in a ‘game’ are forced to choose the option that makes both of them worse off. In this case, the ‘players’ are Apple and Samsung, and the ‘game’ they are playing is the chicken game of patent litigations.
Table based on Game Theory: Prisoner’s Dilemma
This table illustrates the situation that Apple and Samsung is facing. According to the table, whatever the opponent chooses to do, the best option for a player is to file a lawsuit against the opponent. For example, for Samsung, it is the best option for it to file a lawsuit against Apple because the best-case scenario is that it will possibly kick Apple out of the market. The worst-case scenario is that both Samsung and Apple will possibly be kicked out of the market. However, this case is better than Samsung being kicked out of the market while Apple stays in the market with the market gain, in the point of view of Samsung. The reason behind choosing to file a lawsuit is the same for Apple.
As a result, they reach a Nash equilibrium, in which both of them file a lawsuit against each other, making them worse off. The patent lawsuit can be seen as a deadweight loss that is ‘wasted’ in a litigious process. Some people argue that the only people gaining from this situation are the lawyers. Consumers are the ultimate victims of this patent war because the ligation burdens are passed through higher prices for the products Apple and Samsung produce.
However, it should be noted that this ‘game’ of patent lawsuits is repeated numerously, 50 lawsuits as it was mentioned. Meritz Investment Bank’s analyst Lee Secheol anticipated in April that Apple and Samsung would stop and reconcile with each other as the ‘game’ is repeated. He anticipated that both firms would realize that this situation is making them worse off and that they would sit down at the negotiating table.
According to CNET News, CEOs of Apple and Samsung did have a meeting. However, they have never came up with an agreement. The fact that they had a meeting to reconcile showed that both of them realized they were in a situation of prisoner’s dilemma. However, their disagreement over withdrawing from a patent war also showed that this issue has become somewhat emotional, which makes it beyond the problem of prisoner’s dilemma.
Consumers should realize that this is not only doing harm to both the companies but also doing harm to themselves. This patent war will inevitably lead to an increase in the prices of products that Apple and Samsung produce and will significantly limit the number of choices that consumers can make if one of them are kicked out of the market as a result of a lawsuit. Also, the products they purchase may be limited in functions or features due to the patent constraints.