The Apple-Samsung Phone Spat Will Hurt Latinos

Banning lower-cost mobile devices would limit choices for a new generation of entrepreneurial Latinos.

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Projecting patents at what cost?

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A court case in California between Apple and Samsung threatens the American spirit of innovation and free-enterprise – and Hispanics may have the most to lose in the three-year legal dispute between the phone giants over patent infringements. On March 31, a new round of proceedings commenced. While many will monitor the trial closely, the ultimate legal impact on minority communities and consumer choices has been noticeably overlooked.

Mobile devices are reshaping how Latinos connect to the Internet. In doing so, they are expanding the promise and welfare-enhancing resources of the Internet to minority communities who may not have access to broadband connections at home. Nielsen and the Pew Research Center have both found that minorities are making greater use of the mobile web.

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Latinos are more likely to own a smartphone for Internet access than any other ethnic group. Latinos watch more hours of videos online and on their mobile devices than the average American. Advancements in mobile technology now provide new gateways for education, entertainment, politics and lifestyle.

More importantly, a new generation of Latinos is using mobile technologies as a platform for innovation and entrepreneurship. Increased use of mobile devices in our community has fueled connectivity, creativity and a drive to create more tailored and inspiring content, new businesses, and services. Indeed, Latinos are playing a greater role in the tech community and the emerging app economy than ever before.

So what’s at risk for minority communities over the Apple-Samsung legal dispute?

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First, the cost of mobile devices. Currently, aggressive competition in mobile marketplace between companies like Apple, Samsung, LG and HTC create tremendous choices and benefits for the specific end-user. Not everyone can afford to pay hundreds of dollars for an iPhone, but today’s marketplace provides consumers of modest means, like many households in the Latino community, with more affordable options that provide the same important gateways to the mobile web.

Under the new legal proceedings, Apple is seeking exorbitant fees for certain Samsung products sold in the U.S. If granted, these fees could dramatically increase the price of Samsung smartphones and place an unnecessary financial burden on consumers who rely on those devices. While the U.S. District Court found that some of Apple’s patents were infringed upon and awarded the company $930 million in restitution, Apple has continued its draconian legal effort.

Secondly, our mobile ecosystem thrives by having multiple device makers and platforms. Some developers prefer to develop on Apple’s iOS, whereas others prefer open-sourced operating systems like Android. In order for effective and comprehensive growth to occur, there needs to be choice for these enterprising entrepreneurs.

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Apple has also repeatedly tried to ban the sale of Samsung products that violated its patents. Although that attempt was rejected by the court twice, Apple has appealed the judge’s decision and continues to seek a ban on its competitor’s products.

Companies, like Apple, certainly have the right to protect their intellectual property, but at what cost? Simply put, unreasonable fees or outright bans on any mobile device would ultimately manipulate the marketplace by limiting consumer choice and creating obstacles for developer-friendly platforms. Apple’s latest legal tactics will drive up smartphone costs and make them more inaccessible for consumers who are more price-sensitive.

I fear these consequences could disproportionately affect minority communities who are reliant on their mobile devices. As the second trial begins, I hope these two pillars of our mobile industry settle their differences out of court through more agreeable terms. If not, this never-ending legal battle could dramatically impact consumer choice and hinder the entrepreneurial spirit.