Mutually Assured Destruction: Ending the Apple Samsung War

It’s what ended the Cold War, and it’s what will end the Apple, Samsung, and Google patent disputes: mutually assured destruction. In the old days of “duck and cover,” the U.S. and the Soviet Union were caught in a nuclear arms race of the worst kind. As the U.S. built a better rocket to deliver more destructive payloads, the Soviets would follow with a better rocket, and so on. The only thing that saved the world from nuclear fallout was the decision by both countries to match each other nuke for nuke, capability for capability. Meaning if one country were to launch their nukes, the other could deploy theirs before the missiles arrived. Thus, ensuring the utter annihilation of both countries (as comforting as that sounds). But since the 1980s, deterrence has kept us safe, and could play a role in the latest patent war.

So Apple’s stock may have gone to an all-time high as Samsung’s took a hit, but Google’s retaliatory suit against Apple via Motorola Mobility’s Pandora’s Box of patents could be the mushroom-cloud headline of the fourth quarter. And if it successfully delivers enough damage, both parties (Android and iOS) could call a truce.

With any patent dispute, the objective is to disrupt the other’s business and attack their brand integrity. When Apple successfully claimed $1.049 billion in damages from Samsung last Friday – they hardly did it for the money. Also, Samsung made $4.5 billion in profits in the second quarter alone, and if the sales of the Samsung Galaxy SIII are any inclination, they’ll do the same (potentially higher) in the third.

Google might need to fire the last warning shot as well – with Google/Motorola Mobility claiming that Apple infringed on seven of their own patents. So if both are going to stop attacking each other with vague design patent disputes – bad news for Apple, could be good news for everyone. Because Apple has yet to receive a big public relations hit, they really don’t know the price of admission. Samsung has already taken one on the chin, and although I’m hardly up for any more patent whining (from Apple, Google or Samsung), Apple doesn’t appear to be quelling its litigation efforts. So sometimes to stop a bully, you have to confront a bully.

A successful case against Apple is also potentially more damaging. Because the company only has one product in each mobile category, they can’t recover like Google or Samsung can from damaging headlines, or worse: bans. The reason being, if Google succeeds, Apple’s one product (the iPhone) is banned. Where a ban for a Samsung product doesn’t necessarily guarantee every product. For instance, the recent ruling does not include products like the Galaxy Nexus – also made by Samsung. So if both can prove successful at recording big-damage claims against either side, perhaps the patent war will end with each firing a warning shot resulting in a ceasefire.

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