Apple vs. Samsung: Could Ruling Widen Digital Divide?

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    At best, a legal battle between high-tech giants Apple and Samsung is nothing more than a case involving questions of patent law. At worst, tech experts say the outcome could have far-reaching consequences on African American and Hispanic consumers’ access the Internet.

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    The fight began in 2011, when Apple sued Samsung in Northern California’s U.S. District Court, alleging that the South Korean company copied some of its mobile device technology. In the end, Apple won the case and was awarded nearly $1 billion in damages, though the presiding judge, Lucy Koh, noted that Samsung’s patent infringement was not willful.

    But Apple apparently was not satisfied. In a trial that kicked off last week, an expert testified that Apple is entitled to $2.2 billion in damages from Samsung for infringing on five of its patents because the breach occurred during a time of precipitous growth for the smartphone market, the Wall Street Journal reports.

    If Apple succeeds, the decision could curb consumers’ options in the booming mobile device market, experts say. But more than that, it could further widen the so-called digital divide, hampering the ability of low-income individuals, including Blacks and Hispanics, to go online.

    “If Apple gets everything they’re asking for, it could potentially raise the price of Samsung phones, and others as well,” Geoff A. Manne, founder and executive director of the International Center for Law and Economics (ICLE), based in Portland, Oregon, told NewsOne.

    Neither attorneys for Apple or Samsung responded to NewsOne’s requests for comment by deadline.

    The threat to low-income communities derives from the fact that Apple and Samsung serve separate economic markets. In the case of Apple, it produces a limited array of expensive iPhone devices sold at its stores and other high-end vendors. By contrast, Samsung offers more than 25 smartphone models that include relatively inexpensive devices sold at convenience stores and drug stores.

    The availability of these low-cost smartphones, experts say, has helped provide Internet access to many low-income families who often cannot afford monthly Internet service at home or laptop and desktop computers.

    Pew Research study published in April 2012 revealed, among other things, that young adults, minorities, and individuals from low-income households are more likely than other groups to rely on their phones to gain access to the Internet.

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