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Plagiarism: Apple vs. Samsung


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Plagiarism is the use of someone else’s knowledge or ideas without their permission. In Scientific Research in Information Systems, author Jan Recker defines plagiarism as the “"wrongful appropriation" and "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work” (Recker, 2012, p. 144). In academics, plagiarism occurs when a writer uses outside sources without due acknowledgement. This happens if the writer, be it a student or a researcher, copies or paraphrases ideas taken from published books and journals and presents them as his/her own. The person usually fails to cite the borrowed material within the text. In science and technology, plagiarism occurs when the offender uses a third party’s ideas to create or design a new device that performs the same function as the original one. In legal definition, it is referred to as “patent infringement.” It involves the illegal or “prohibited use of a patented invention without the patent holder’s permission” (Kennedy & Watkins, 2012, p. 5). The offender is guilty of violating the laws that govern technological inventions and application of scientific knowledge in research and innovation. The patent rights, also known as copyrights, are aimed at protecting inventors against abuse or misuse of their ideas by imitators. This essay argues that plagiarism of any kind is a serious violation of other people’s intellectual property. Accordingly, offenders should be punished as legally appropriate. This is recommendable not only to protect people’s intellectual properties, but also to encourage originality in research and innovation.

Plagiarism suggests a lack of respect for other people’s ideas. New ideas are invented as a result of vigorous studies and extensive experimentations. Similarly, generation of new knowledge results from dedicated research to produce evidence in support of advanced claims. Regardless, every discovery or idea is based on the work of previous studies. They borrow from the achievements, mistakes or suggestions of previous works. The ability to advance ideas that are better than existing ones is only possible by learning the mistakes and shortcomings of others.  Therefore, it is a matter of professional courtesy to acknowledge the contributions of previous researchers, because their work forms the basis of present achievements. In science and technology, the invention of better-performing gadgets revolves around finding solutions to the shortcomings of existing ones (Recker, 2012). For instance, the invention of the smart phone is based on adding to and perfecting the features and applications of ordinary cell phones. A good example is the earpiece, which is found in all phones. The invention of a smart phone does not transfer ownership of the earpiece’s copyright, in the same way the touch-screen technology remains the property of the original inventor whether it is used on an iPhone or a tablet.    Therefore, plagiarism is not just the mere replication of technology to produce a similar product, but includes using that idea to produce a different product. An example is Samsung’s use of an interface technology borrowed from Apple’s iPhones in its (Samsung’s) Galaxy series.  In this regard, I consider plagiarism an enemy to research and scientific invention. This is because it encourages individuals to seek easy shortcuts to find answers and solutions to problems. Consequently, plagiarism encourages regurgitation of the same ideas over and over again, while the aim of research is to explore new ways of doing the same thing or invent a different solution to a given problem. Thus, at the end of a research project the researcher must come up with new insights that either expands or betters the existing ideas and body of knowledge.

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The case pitying Samsung against Apple over the former’s copying of the latter’s interface design for tablet computers and smart phones exemplifies the reality of plagiarism in technology. Apple accused Samsung of using the design of its iPhones for the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab smart phones. Apple sued Samsung in July 2011, accusing it patent infringement by copying the design of its iPhones and iPads and using it on the Galaxy S smart phones tablets.  Interestingly, the Galaxy S smart phone is strikingly similar with the iPhone in terms of shape and interface. Apple responded to this similarity by filing a 38-page suit in which it argued that “Rather than innovate and develop its own technology and a unique Samsung style for its smart phone products and computer tablets, Samsung chose to copy Apple's technology, user interface and innovative style in these infringing products” (Kane & Sherr, 211). One of the functional features that Apple accused Samsung of imitating is the “pinch-to-zoom feature popularised by the iPhone” (Kane & Sherr, 2011). To prove its case, Apple displayed photos of its 3GS iPhone model (released on 2009 June) alongside Samsung’s Galaxy S i9000 model, which entered the market in March 2010. They further accused Samsung of “stealing design ideas and selling more than $7.5bn worth of technology that infringe Apple patents” (Arthur & Sandeman, 2012). Eventually, a California court in August 24, 2012, awarded Apple $1.05 billion as compensation for the infringement of its patented designs by Samsung (The Hindu, 2012). This was despite Samsung’s argument that Apple was interested in “stifling competition and limiting consumer choice” (Arthur & Sandeman, 2012). This argument supports the idea that plagiarism should be allowed in technology if it promotes competition. This will in turn promote better quality products and expand consumers’ choices.

In view of the claims contained in Apple’s suit against Samsung, it is clear that it is justified to defend the copying of its technology by a competitor. Additionally, a close scrutiny of the iPhone 3GS and the Galaxy S shows that the two phones are similar in all respects except in name. Accordingly, I argue that the court was justified in fining Samsung for copying a competitor’s design ideas. However, the court should have compelled Apple to demonstrate that Samsung used every bit of Apple’s technology to manufacture the Galaxy S. As it has been pointed out above, technological invention can also take the form of innovation, whereby the “imitator” modifies an existing idea to produce a better product. In this regard, the court should have determined whether the performance of the two phones was the same. If the Galaxy S was found to perform better than the iPhone 3GS, then it could have been a case of perfecting an existing technology and not outright copying. If all patented technologies were to be protected completely, then technology will stagnate. The law should spell out provisions under which imitation of technology should be acceptable and recommendable. This should be the case whereby the new product addresses some of the shortcomings of the original one.  Accordingly, there is a possibility that although Apple proved that Samsung copied its design, the latter made some modifications that produced a better smart phone.

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In conclusion, plagiarism hinders research by encouraging a culture of copy-pasting other people’s ideas. This is especially the case in academia, where it threatens to kill the spirit of scholarship and intellectual professionalism. However, technology presents a big challenge with regards to curbing the infringement of patented ideas. Since no technology is absolutely perfect, there is a need to provide room for “creative plagiarism,” whereby imitators add new modifications to improve the performance of original devices.

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