iPhone on Trial? Apple Designer Dodges Subpoena

By | Aug 8, 2012

The legal battle between Apple and Samsung over smartphone technology has taken a curious new turn. A former Apple designer, who once designed iPhone prototypes resembling Sony models, is seeking to avoid testifying. His testimony is being sought by Samsung's legal team, which wants to prove that Apple has not been above borrowing technology.

For the IT community at midsize firms, this latest twist underlines the degree to which important technology decisions may be caught up in legal battles. It is at least possible that Android development will be stymied by Apple. If so, IT departments that had committed to Android as the basis of their mobile technology could be in a bind. But the legal battles might also backfire on Apple.

Called to the Stand

As Lance Whitney reports at CNET, the latest legal shoving match swirls around Shin Nishibori, a former designer for Apple. According to the AllThingsD website, Nishibori drew up designs for an iPhone resembling Sony products. The designs were reportedly called for by top Apple designer Jony Ive.

Sony is not directly involved in the Apple-Samsung lawsuit at all. But if Samsung could demonstrate that Apple lifted design concepts from Sony, it would strengthen Samsung's defense against claims that it swiped design concepts from Apple.

Is that convoluted enough for you? Now add to the mix the fact that Nishibori, on advice of counsel, is playing hard to get. His lawyers argue that Nishibori should not have to come from Hawaii to San Jose to testify and that he has health issues. They also claim that the subpoena was not properly served.

Playing Hard to Get

To a non-lawyer this is all apt to sound pretty evasive. It sounds as if Nishibori is reluctant to provide testimony that would be embarrassing to Apple. In fairness, he and his lawyers might respond that Samsung is on a mere fishing expedition. Without the testimony, how can we know?

But we don't need to hear courtroom testimony to know that Apple - fairly or otherwise - is gunning for the Android operating system. If Apple succeeds in its legal quest, Android vendors will at least have to pay Apple to use Android technology. (Apple is demanding up to $2.5 billion in damages from Samsung.)

And it is at least possible that Android could be crippled, effectively removed from the list of available mobile options for IT departments at midsize firms. This outcome may be unlikely, but it cannot be ruled out.

For IT managers at midsize firms, the real winner in this battle could end up being Microsoft. So far its Windows Phone technology has not been caught up in the legal battles, and the IT world has a comfort level with Windows.

But IT professionals cannot be blamed for feeling that a courtroom is no place to make technology decisions.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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