This paper will evaluate a court case between two giant companies which sell more than half of the smartphones sold all over the world (Taube, 2016). Apple and Samsung have been playing a tug-of-war in the courts from last several years, with both choosing to end some of the other cases outside the court (Satariano & Rosenblatt, 2014). The base of this paper is a news article by Balakrishnan (2016) with the same title. What happened is that Samsung copied some design from Apple and used them to great success in its products. Samsung denies having stolen Apple's intellectual property per se but admits to stealing only components from Apple. Using the complete end-product as the foundation for determining the value of penalty has been turned down by the Supreme Court in the Dec 2016 ruling when only portions are stolen and integrated as a part of a complex product. The Supreme Court has ruled that in the instance of a simple product, say a dinner plate, the complete end-product will be used, but not so for a complex product, say an oven (Balakrishnan, 2016).
The ruling by the Supreme Court presents an ethical quandary. This paper will ask the question that is it okay to steal portions from someone else's efforts (intellectual property) and implement it in own's product (and possibly build something equal or better). Specifically, was Samsung ethically correct in copying components of Apple to include in this products. This paper will explore this question from the perspective of four classical ethical theories - Utilitarianism, Deontology, Virtue Ethics and Contractarianism.
Map of Arguments From Moral Perspective
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that gives prominence to the consequences of an action. Utilitarianism takes upon itself to do the maximum possible benefit (or the minimum harm) upon as many sentient beings as possible which will be affected by the actions. It finds roots in guiding the legislators in the 18th century (Driver, 2014) to help them choose which laws to enact. Utilitarianism is a type of Consequentialism, as it depends on the consequences to labelling the actions as morally good or bad (Nathanson, n.d.). In the Utilitarianism school of thought, was Samsung ethically right in stealing portions from Apple? Apple is in the iOS operating system, and Samsung used the stolen assets in the Android operating system. Now, these operating systems are ecosystems in themselves and people rarely migrate from one to another. While Android boasts of openness in architecture and apps, iOS boasts of familiarity (Samuels, 2017). Thus, if these components had stayed with Apple, a large chunk of smartphone users (Samsung ones using products based on stolen concepts) would have never benefitted from these assets. The loss to Apple is the increases unfair competition and loss of sales. However, Apple is not sitting still and has sued Samsung. Thus, the greater good is for the users of both operating systems benefitting from new and novel technologies. Thus, this stealing of components is ethical.
Deontology finds its foundations in duty and is a rigid ethical theory. Deontology focuses on the action. The consequences are not relevant in this school of thought. Thus, in Deontological Ethics, there is a clear-cut classification of an action as being morally good or bad. In Deontology, a person who chooses to (attempt to) kill an intruder to his house is doing the ethical thing. In Deontology, consequences can never be used to justify actions (Alexander & Moore, 2016). Stealing is morally wrong action. Stealing is wrong because if it is okay, then everyone will be (morally) free to steal and everyone will be busy securing their property, and no progress will be possible. This reasoning applies to stealing a pencil from the office to the stealing of ideas. Samsung stole assets developed by Apple. The consequences are not relevant here. This copying is not ethically correct.
Virtue Ethics do not codify any actions as morally right or wrong, and neither base the evaluation of the consequences. Virtue Ethics is a general school of thought promoting the correct thing, at the relevant time, with the right person, and in the appropriate measure. Such a definition leaves the analysis of every scenario open. The goal of Virtue Ethics is Eudaimonia or human flourishing (Robinson, 1999). Also, the virtues are not merely concepts and require wholehearted acceptance of the beliefs (Hursthouse & Pettigrove, 2016). Virtue Ethics is about moderation and avoiding the both vices of deficiency and abundance. In the perspective of Virtue Ethics, was Samsung ethically correct in stealing components designed by Apple? By stealing from Apple, Samsung is reaping the benefits of someone else's efforts. That does not bode well for human flourishing, which is the aim of Virtue Ethics. With this action, the stealer (Samsung) is training the innocent hard worker (Apple) not to utilise efforts in developing new technologies. Someone or Samsung itself will steal those again. Thus, whatever Samsung has done is hurting the overall situation and thus is ethically wrong.
Contractarianism does away with the idea that morality is something deep, pervasive or handed down to us humans by some deity ("Contractarianism: Crash Course Philosophy #37", 2016). Contractarianism states that whenever a group of rational, free (as in speech) and self-interested people come together, morality emerges. There is nothing hard-and-fast about morality, and it is born out of the need to uphold the agreements (explicit and implicit contracts). This school of thought considers people, being free-willed, to be the sole and best deciders of their actions. Anything goes if the parties of the contract are free-willed and keep their ends of the bargain. In the Contractarianism school of thought, was Samsung ethically right in stealing assets of Apple to include in its products? It is unclear exactly how Samsung copied the Apple's designs. However, Apple sells its products for personal use, and the assets (hardware, software, design) are the property of Apple. The contract between the selling company and the buying party is by mutual will. Moreover, this contract must be upheld by either party. Samsung, howsoever, got hold of the intellectual property of Apple has violated the contract. Thus, this stealing is ethically wrong.
This paper analysed the stealing of Apple's assets by Samsung for use in its products. Needless to say, Apple is not sitting around and letting anyone run off with its hard work. The paper evaluated the act under the lens of four ethical theories. Most of the theories led to the conclusion that this stealing was morally wrong, except for the few which focused on consequences.
Alexander, L. & Moore, M. (2016). Deontological Ethics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 10 January 2017, from
Balakrishnan, A. (2016). Supreme Court sides with Samsung in Apple patent damages dispute. CNBC. Retrieved 10 January 2017, from
Contractarianism: Crash Course Philosophy #37. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 10 January 2017, from
Driver, J. (2014). The History of Utilitarianism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 10 January 2017, from
Hursthouse, R. & Pettigrove, G. (2016). Virtue Ethics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 10 January 2017, from
Nathanson, S. Utilitarianism, Act and Rule | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 10 January 2017, from
Robinson, D. (1999). Aristotle's psychology (1st ed.). Joe Christensen Inc.
Samuels, M. (2017). Android vs iOS: Which is best for business? | ZDNet. ZDNet. Retrieved 10 January 2017, from
Satariano, A. & Rosenblatt, J. (2014). Apple, Samsung Agree to End Patent Suits Outside U.S.. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved 10 January 2017, from
Taube, S. (2016). The Samsung-Apple Court Case: How Patent Law Shapes the Market - Investment U. Investment U. Retrieved 10 January 2017, from