Contrarian alert: The downside of an Apple victory over Samsung

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Most Apple-Samsung patent trial watchers hold the same assumptions about potential outcomes: If Apple wins, the judgment will show current and future copycats the price to pay for imitating Apple products. If Samsung wins, it’s a license for anyone to develop and sell products that could be possibly confused for Apple’s best-selling designs, ultimately hurting Apple’s bottom line.

But what if the opposite is true? UBS analyst Steven Milunovich put forth a thoughtful note to clients Tuesday arguing that it’s ultimately in Apple’s best interest if it loses this case against Samsung. How could that possibly be? Here’s the argument:

In the short- to intermediate-term, an Apple win forcing competitors to come up with different designs should be positive because Apple is a better designer and could have a monopoly on key features. In the long run, however, it could hurt Apple because the real threat is not a competitor beating Apple at its own game but instead changing the game. The likelihood of Apple being leapfrogged or a rival creating a new category is greater if they have to think out of the box. If they just copy Apple, like Coke, Apple can claim to be ‘the real thing.’

“The real threat is not a competitor beating Apple at its own game but instead changing the game” — that’s a really interesting observation. Especially since that’s basically Apple’s corporate M.O. The company has been able to climb to the very top of the technology and business worlds because it’s changed “the game” on so many of its competitors — RIM, Nokia, Microsoft, Dell and HP among them.

Apple winning could force other companies to pursue real innovation in terms of phone and tablet form factors, how content is delivered, and more. But following either a win or a loss, it doesn’t mean Apple will sit still either.

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