Will the Apple-Samsung Trial have Healthcare IT Fallout?

April 10, 2013
Consumer electronics can impact healthcare applications. Will the outcome of the Apple-Samsung trial impact healthcare IT innovation?

I am intrigued with how this has gotten this far (Apple wants billions of dollars in settlements, so it went to trial), and the implications for all sorts of electronic technology, including healthcare IT.  Imagine if Epic decided to take other EMR vendors to task over some aspect of the user interface of an EMR!  Below are images of the Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy phone, and an LG smart phone for comparison.  To my eye, the LG phone looks like a closer copy of the iPhone than the Samsung phone!  But, Samsung is the 800 pound gorilla in the smartphone market right now, so Apple went for the brass ring. 

I have been following with interest coverage of the Apple-Samsung trial now in its second week.  For those not familiar, there have been a number of counter-suits in terms of patent infringement and claims of copying the look and feel of the iPhone.  Apple seems to have the upper hand in already obtaining a sales injunction of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.  Interestingly enough, the injunction does not cover the similar Galaxy Tab 8.9 which is slightly smaller, because Apple has yet to introduce a tablet with a smaller form factor!

The lawsuit includes issues with some of the user interface involving hand motion response, such as a picture snapping back to the center when scrolling to the edge.  It seems to me that since the Samsung phones use the Android operating system software from Google, why would Apple not be going after Google?  Or, if they are successful, is Google next on the list?  Apple has already dropped Google Maps in favor of their own map application on the next iPhone, so it seems there is already a storm brewing between these two.

Depending on the outcome, there could be huge implications for many industries, including healthcare IT.  For example, here are illustrations of two different PACS workstations. 

They do basically the same thing, and have a similar look and feel.  Yet, there are enough differences to know they are from different vendors.  Will the results of the Apple-Samsung court action mean that one PACS vendor might be emboldened to take another to task for infringement of some aspect of the software?  Several years ago, a couple vendors were showing off “futures” that involved large panel displays that used hand motions to manipulate images.  Would such developments be at risk?

I recall that GE pioneered the use of a trackball for controlling window and level adjustment on a computed tomography (CT) workstation back in the early 1980’s.  Today, virtually every image display device uses some variation of this capability to adjust window/level.  I don’t know if GE ever secured a patent for this application.  What seems generic today was a significant development thirty years ago.  Imagine the impact if every imaging vendor had to come up with an alternative means for adjusting window/level! 

Almost every EMR application today is some variation on the same theme in terms of data entry, using Microsoft Windows as its basis.  Entire toolkits have been developed for simplifying such user interfaces.  The screens may be different colors, and the layout may be different, but fundamentally, they all work the same.  Will this result in the need to innovate alternative ways of entering patient data? 

Apple has been the predominant device in healthcare when it comes to tablet devices.  The question is whether the outcome of the trial will have much impact on the proliferation of mobile health devices.  Will only Apple devices be allowed?  Or, will companies be less inclined to develop applications for Android devices?

It seems that healthcare IT has always been reliant on commercial electronics development.  Would there be high-resolution image displays for healthcare today if it were not for the gaming and personal computer industries?  Probably, but at a substantially higher cost. 
In conclusion, I guess this is the old proverbial glass half empty or full.  Would an Apple victory stifle creativity as various device interfaces would be off limits, or would it stimulate creativity to come up with new approaches?  I will be anxiously waiting to see what the jury concludes next week!

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