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Samsung Designer Denies Apple Influence: "Absolutely Not"

Real-time marketing, Android origins and some directly relevant testimony about "slide-to-unlock" at the Apple-Samsung trial.

Did Samsung steal its slide-to-unlock feature from Apple’s smartphone software?

“Absolutely not,” said Samsung senior UI designer Youngmi Kim, who has worked on user experience strategy on the Samsung design team since 2004.

“If we were to work on the same thing as Apple, that would not give us any advantage in terms of differentiating our products, so that would not make any sense,” Kim said, speaking through a translator.

Apple’s patent on slide-to-unlock is one of five over which Apple has sued Samsung, saying that the Korean electronics giant owes it more than $2 billion for using its patented technology in various phones and tablets. Samsung denies its products infringe and also says the patents at issue are invalid. Meanwhile, it has countersued Apple for infringing on two of its patents.

On the stand Monday, Kim discounted an internal document uncovered in the trial that showed a usability study had recommended that Samsung make its overly sensitive unlocking system perform like the iPhone, because the system had already been fixed in 2009, and the document is from 2010.

As for another document, Kim said Samsung never widely implemented a usability test’s recommendation to add text that would guide people about how to use the slide-to-unlock motion.


Kim seemed particularly well equipped to answer the slide-to-unlock origin question, given she actually works on Samsung software. The rest of Monday’s courtroom session in the ongoing patent dispute in San Jose, Calif., was devoted to questioning three engineers who work for Google, two Samsung marketing executives, an Apple patent inventor and a prior art witness.

In other words, people who don’t work on Samsung software.

Samsung’s larger goals were to show that 1) it got to its position in the U.S. smartphone market through marketing and hardware innovation, but especially marketing; 2) Google thought up various Android frameworks before Apple launched the iPhone.

To its credit, Samsung did a nice job of explaining that after 2011, it stepped up its marketing efforts by hiring Nike exec Todd Pendleton and diverting dollars from spending with carriers to advertising its own brands directly to consumers.

Pendleton oversaw a shake-up in ad campaigns at Samsung. He said he didn’t know Samsung made smartphones when he first interviewed for the gig at CES in Las Vegas three years ago. Samsung didn’t even have a Twitter account when he joined.

Back in 2011, before the company underwent a marketing “paradigm shift,” it was the fourth-place smartphone seller in the U.S., behind Apple, HTC and RIM.

Under Pendleton’s direction, the company developed a “real-time marketing” approach of “attaching our brand to cultural moments,” he said.

Some highlights of that approach include Samsung’s ad-libbed 2013 Super Bowl campaign — the same ad that prompted Apple marketing head Phil Schiller to demand better from his own ad agency — and Ellen Degeneres tweeting the “selfie seen around the world” at the Oscars earlier this year.

But as Apple lawyer Bill Lee of WilmerHale said to Pendleton on the stand, “No one’s accused your marketing or advertising program of infringing any patents.”

Lee’s argument was that internal emails showed that Pendleton and other Samsung executives, including former Samsung Telecommunications America CEO Dale Sohn, were focused on Samsung’s deficiencies versus Apple.

“Beating Apple is no longer an objective, it is our survival strategy,” wrote Sohn in a 2012 internal planning memo.

Meanwhile, three Google engineers and product leaders talked about aspects of Android’s framework and default applications that concern some of Apple’s patented software: Searching for information stored locally on the phone, changing text into hyperlinks that are opened in other apps and synchronizing information.

The Google people portrayed those features as 1) having been developed before Apple did and 2) either totally fundamental or not particularly important.

For instance, Björn Bringert, who oversees the Google search box on Android search screens, said that a feature that searches across the Web as well as local information is used only two percent of the time, and furthermore, since 92 percent of Android users have Google accounts, that information is mostly already stored in the cloud, so it doesn’t have to be searched locally.

Meanwhile, Dianne Hackborn, the engineer responsible for the way Android helps apps talk to one another, said she dreamed up this idea of “intents” in 2006, before the iPhone was ever introduced.

Apple lawyer Rachel Krevans of Morrison Foerster had the same line of questioning for each of the Google witnesses: “Google’s not a defendant in this case, right?”

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