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For Samsung, copying the iPhone was a massive gamble – and it paid off

Apple vs. Samsung

Samsung just scored a massive win against Apple in a patent war that seems like it will last forever. It obtained a retrial in one of the cases where Apple scored a significant victory back in 2012. Apple was awarded more than $1 billion in damages, in a verdict that practically confirmed what many people, yours truly included, said for years: Samsung copied the iPhone.

But then, Samsung was able to lower the damages down to $400 million. And now the judge overseeing the case just said the case has to be tried again.

That’s just brilliant, and it shows that copying the iPhone was the best thing Samsung ever did.

I still firmly believe that Samsung’s strategy at the time was to copy the iPhone, and this particular piece of evidence proves it, a 132-page document that tells Samsung employees to make Android phones that look more like the iPhone. And Samsung has never stopped being a fast follower. Sure, the Galaxy S phones launched since Apple brought lawsuits against Samsung aren’t true iPhone copies. But in most cases, it’s Samsung who copies Apple’s lead. And everyone in the business compares their brand new devices with Apple’s phones.

But it’s only evident now what Samsung was able to pull off. Copying the iPhone was a massive gamble, but also a calculated one. Samsung quickly realized it could create iPhone-like devices that would sell just as well as the iPhone. By the time Apple brought charges against Samsung, the South Korean giant would have already established itself as a major Android device maker, and it could further hone its smartphone-making skills. It would soon learn how to make Galaxy phones that aren’t iPhone clones. And it’ll made boatloads of cash in the process which meant it’ll just pay the damages. As for the iPhones clones, those would be long gone from stores by the time Apple actually won any meaningful product bans.

That’s precisely what happened. Samsung just swallowed the criticism, fought back, and marched onward. And it all worked out.

Samsung somehow managed to almost overturn that $1 billion verdict, as the whole Apple vs. Samsung battle became a war of attrition that both companies can afford. But also a war of attrition that quickly turned out to be a boring subject for the crowds. And one that favored Samsung as the years passed.

People forgot all about those original devices, and the iPhones and Galaxies of 2017 look nothing like them. The latest Galaxy models aren’t iPhone copies, just as Android on Samsung phones doesn’t look like a washed out version of iOS anymore.

Samsung could have paid that $1 billion fine a few times over without actually noticing the loss. It’s a massive corporation with a large bottom line. Yet Samsung chose to fight it, while fully knowing that it did copy the iPhone.

Add to that the fact that Apple needs Samsung’s supply business — just as Samsung needs Apple as a client — and you get one more side of this complex Apple vs. Samsung story. By the way, there’s a reason Apple is working with LG on a secret iPhone design of the future. It’s afraid Samsung might steal some of those design secrets.

Apple could have probably continued its assault against Samsung with other trials. But it decided not to wage other wars except for the open cases. Apple apparently also realized that no matter what a jury says about Samsung’s old iPhone clones, and no matter the damages Samsung would have to pay, there’s really no stopping the Samsung juggernaut when it comes to making iPhone rivals.

Whatever happens next in the case, it won’t really affect Samsung or Apple anymore, so it’s probably time for the case to be settled. Samsung’s lawyers definitely deserve their brand new yachts, but the real rewards should go to the Samsung execs who decided that copying the iPhone is worth whatever price Samsung will have to pay.

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.