In 1985, Microsoft launched their Windows operating system. Windows was a huge increase in ease of use over the earlier versions of Microsoft's operating system, known as DOS. The new operating system went a long way toward erasing Apple Computer's lead in easy to use computer software.
Apple sued Microsoft for patent infringement on their software. Even though the actual computer code of the two systems was very different, Apple's claim was that Microsoft had pirated the "look and feel" of Apple's software. The judge hearing the case disagreed, in what was a landmark case for its day.
Fast forward to this week. In another patent infringement case, Apple sued Samsung over several of the features of smartphone technology. The most important patent allegedly infringed was one on "pinch to zoom" technology. This is the feature of a smartphone or tablet computer where you put two fingers on the screen and spread them to zoom into and expand an image, or close them together to shrink the image.
This time, the jury ruled in Apple's favor. The ability to control an image on a computer screen that way is such an innovation that Apple has an exclusive right to that feature, regardless of the technical details of how it is done. The jury found that Samsung had cost Apple a billion dollars by violating the patent. And because the jury found that it was a willful violation (i.e. Samsung's execs knew what they were doing) the judge in the case has the option to assign treble damages. That means Samsung would have to write a check for up to $3 billion.
The real impact of this case is that if Samsung or any other cell phone or tablet amker wants to use the patented features, they have to get Apple's permission. Apple can either charge hefty licensing fees, making the other companies' phones more expensive than the iPhone, or just flat deny the rights to other companies.
The impact of this case is to make everybody's cell phones and tablet computers more expensive from here out, including Apple's. After all, why drop the cost of your product when you have a monopoly?