Opinion: In Apple v Samsung, Outrageous Awards Hurt Latinos

The Associated Press

 (The Associated Press)

Judging by the widespread adoption of smartphones across this country in the last seven years, it is clear that cutting-edge innovations in mobile technology are now an indelible part of American life. Looming large in the backdrop, however, is the ongoing legal clash among two of the largest smartphone makers, Apple and Samsung. The results of this court battle could have profound implications for consumers as the outrageous financial damages handed down in these cases mount. 

The outcomes of these legal disputes no longer just affect the parties involved because the courts are increasingly relying on questionable reasoning to determine the financial remedies one company may owe to another in patent disputes that often hinge on trivial differences.

The dispute between the companies stems from similarities in shape and design of certain smartphones — a point of contention most consumers may find trivial and likely bears little weight on one’s purchasing decision.

- Mario H. Lopez

Last week, the Hispanic Leadership Fund filed an amicus brief with the Northern California Federal Court of Appeals on the matter of $930 million in financial damages awarded to Apple for a smartphone design infringement case it brought against Samsung. If upheld, the ruling could reduce consumer choice in the marketplace, increase costs, and limit functionality of mobile devices – all of which would have an especially negative impact on the Hispanic community.

Research shows that Latinos are especially reliant on smartphones for access to the Internet and online resources. A study by the Pew Hispanic Center last year found nearly half of all Hispanic adults own a smartphone and that ownership among the Hispanic community is growing faster among other demographics.

For many Latinos, a smartphone provides their primary access to the Internet. More than half of Hispanics use their cell phone to surf the Internet, compared to only about a third of non-Hispanic white subscribers.

Therefore, limiting consumer options and availability to a broad range of mobile devices will hurt consumer access to online resources. In an increasingly digital world, that threatens to create a cultural wedge that isolates the Hispanic population in the U.S. Latinos use smartphones to access government services and participate in civic activity, engage in education and classroom activity, access healthcare, and pursue business opportunities.

Consider school districts across the country, which more and more are employing online tools and developing lesson plans designed for mobile use. With restricted access to the Internet and mobile devices, Hispanic students, especially those from low-income families, will be at a disadvantage to their peers. 

Or take a young entrepreneur hoping to reach consumers in the digital space. More expensive devices and limited Internet access will add to his or her overhead costs and ability to connect with potential customers.

It becomes obvious that fewer smartphone options and limited access to mobile broadband will constrict the ability of Latinos to succeed.

Patents and intellectual property protections are supposed to improve products and access to goods and services, ultimately benefiting consumers. But they should not be allowed to monopolize markets or punish competitors, especially when there is little evidence of harm – as is the case between Apple and Samsung.

In fact, the dispute between the companies stems from similarities in shape and design of certain smartphones — a point of contention most consumers may find trivial and likely bears little weight on one’s purchasing decision. Yet, the nearly $1 billion in damages levied on Samsung could severely limit choices and will likely be passed along to consumers.

For that reason, the Hispanic Leadership Fund asked the Federal Court of Appeals to reconsider the damages awarded to Apple in that court case. We hope the court will take into account the harmful effects of those damages and take proper action.

Mario H. Lopez is President of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a national advocacy organization that promotes liberty, opportunity and prosperity.

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