Victory over Samsung on historic anniversary for Apple

The timing of Apple’s triumph in a San Jose, Calif., courtroom earlier Friday over its legal nemesis Samsung could not be more poignant for CEO Tim Cook and company. August 24th is a historic anniversary: it was a year ago today Steve Jobs resigned from the company he founded due to his failing health, sending shockwaves through the tech world.

Today’s victory by Apple sent another kind of shock, but this one is more “shock and awe” due to the legal pounding that Apple’s legal team gave Samsung. The verdict, in which Samsung was ordered to pay $1.05 billion to Apple for infringing on most of the mobile design and utility patents at issue, marks an enormous victory for Apple. Though it was first to market in the modern era of the smart mobile device with the iPhone and iPad, Samsung and other Android device makers were able to collectively outsell Apple’s popular iOS devices by sending hundreds of Android smartphones and tablets into the market.

Jobs, unfortunately, did not live to see through what he started: an epic all-out patent war on Android device makers. He died six weeks after stepping down from Apple’s throne, from cancer.

The fact that Apple did not settle this case out of court, that it continued to push for a decisive legal victory despite the public process having laid bare many of its internal secrets, can be attributed directly to Jobs’ will. It was he who was incensed that former ally Google(s GOOG) had enabled so many other mobile device makers to so easily reproduce what Apple had started with the iPhone and its signature iOS software.

Jobs was extremely emotional about the betrayal, famously vowing to his biographer that he was going to do everything in his power to destroy Android. “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong,” Jobs said. “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

In this particular case, Samsung is simply a stand-in for Android — Apple has yet to go after Google directly for this patent infringement because the device makers, like Samsung, are the ones who most directly affect sales of iPhones and iPads by producing similar-looking products.

This is also an important anniversary for Cook. Friday is also the year marker of his ascension as Apple’s chief executive. Cook has kept the battle against Samsung and others like HTC and Motorola going, but — in typical Cook fashion — is much more measured about why the company has continued Jobs’ “thermonuclear” war. As he said this past spring, “I’ve always hated litigation, and I continue to hate it.” Cook’s motivation for pursuing the mobile patent lawsuits was that he and Apple “just want people to invent their own stuff.”

Apple told the Wall Street Journal: “The mountain of evidence presented during the trial showed that Samsung’s copying went far deeper than even we knew … We make these products to delight our customers, not for our competitors to flagrantly copy.”

That message has been sent loud and clear today. And that’s a huge victory for Apple, but also for Cook himself. So the ruling today is an appropriate marker for his anniversary. He saw his company through a very risky war engaged by his predecessor: it’s a sweet victory — and huge payoff — for someone who took on the riskiest and most challenging job in tech.