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Courts Dish Out a Victory to Apple

publication date: Aug 27, 2012
author/source: RJ Towner

In a landmark case, American technology behemoth and Best Ideas Newsletter holding Apple (click ticker for report: AAPL) won an enormous settlement against Korean electronics giant Samsung Friday night. Samsung will have to pay Apple $1.05 billion in damages related to patent infringements, and Apple could successfully prevent some Samsung devices from being sold in the United States. Any change to our fair value estimate for Apple as a result of this ruling will not be material, however.

Though we can’t speak with absolute certainty that the verdict will be upheld, if the decision stands, Apple is obviously the big winner. Though Apple really doesn’t need $1 billion, it never hurts a firm to add more cash to its coffers (based on the number of shares outstanding, $1 billion amounts to roughly one dollar per share in incremental fair value). More importantly, it legally reinforces what many have already thought: other smartphone makers have simply copied iOS because it’s the best mobile operating system available. Consumers love the simple, intuitive process, so naturally other companies have sought to mimic Apple’s success. This legal victory, combined with eliminating some Google (click ticker for report: GOOG) applications from iOS 6, demonstrate the firm’s commitment to fighting Google’s push into the smartphone market. Steve Jobs, who repeatedly had argued that competitors were stealing Apple’s technology, would be proud.

Further, the legal victory could do damage to Google’s Android by knocking out one of its key partners. Considering Samsung, as well as Apple, account for virtual all smart-phone profitability, this is quite the blow. We thought the Samsung Galaxy was one of the few phones that may be able to challenge the iPhone’s dominance over the long haul, and one of the only Android phones that is highly desired by consumers. Though Google won’t have any legal obligations to Apple as the modifications to Android were made by Samsung, we think Android’s future becomes slightly less certain. We’re also not very positive on the view that other Android partners like HTC and Motorola will fill the void. Still, we like Google for other reasons (namely its valuation and search/advertising dominance).

Shares of Research in Motion (click ticker for report: RIMM) and Nokia (NOK) have rallied in sympathy, but we are not interested in either--even if their respective patent portfolios are now more valuable (as a result of the decision). Both hardware manufacturers make products that differ greatly from Android—RIM with its Blackberry software and Nokia with Symbian and Windows (click ticker for report: MSFT). However, we see no immediate indication that either will steal market share from Android. It’s possible the Blackberry 10 (RIM’s newest OS) may never come, and Microsoft isn’t interested in exclusively supporting Nokia devices. We think smartphone OEMs may now become more interested in partnering with Microsoft (to avoid legal troubles) because Windows mobile OS looks and feels like a different ecosystem than Android and iOS. As a result, the OS-makers (namely Microsoft and Apple) could be the long-term winners rather than the hardware firms (Samsung's competitors). However, we think it’s important to remember that Microsoft has yet to make gains in the smartphone market. Still, smartphone success isn’t priced into our valuation of the software giant, or its inclusion in the portfolio of our Dividend Growth Newsletter.

Ultimately, we think Apple will be the winner. Assuming the ruling stands, Apple has validated its dominance, legally. We expect any high-end Samsung products that are banned will lead to more Apple users rather than movements to substitute Android products. Though this ruling doesn’t materially impact our fair value estimate of Apple, we maintain shares have further upside from current levels. The company scores a 7 on our Valuentum Buying Index (our stock-selection methodology), and our fair value estimate is $813 per share. We continue to hold the company in the portfolio of our Best Ideas Newsletter.

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