Monday 9 July 2012

The Samsung/Apple Patent Fight

The current patent system is completely broken, I don't think patents should exist anyway, but if we had a more robust system, I probably wouldn't care too much (I'm not going to go into the philosophy of this now, but there is much to consider on both sides with regard to property rights). As it stands though, the current system does not protect single inventors, nor does it increase the amount of investment made. It has simply become (or always was to some extent) a way for large companies to buy or make loads of patents and spend all their money and time using the system to push smaller companies out of the market.

Now, onto the current case between Apple and Samsung, which has seen Samsung win the latest round. The  case has been going on for over a year, which has stopped Samsung from being able to sell its product (and rival to the iPad) in some countries. To the detriment of consumers. What is their offence according to Apple? What idea did Samsung steal? None, it was a line drawing of a tablet with rounded corners. Now, according to the general principles, this should never have been awarded as a patent (it is not clearly distinct from other ideas), but it did, and so do many, many other "ideas" that are not justified patents.

In a bizarre statement, the presiding judge, instead of saying that the patent should itself be thrown out, or anything justified, he just insults Samsung into them winning. I'm not sure how a high court judge can decide if something is cool or not, but I digress, coolness is something subjective and I'm not sure our legal system should be based on anyone's opinion on whether something is "cool". Not exactly a sound legal principle. One would hope that this is the end of the saga, but I can see it rumbling on as Apple try to force competitors out of the market and establish something of a legal monopoly - despite not inventing the tablet idea in the first place.

This case seems to represent everything that is wrong with the current patenting system, far too many unjustified patents being awarded, large companies amassing patents just to sue each other (patent hoarding) and a growing class of legal types abusing the system to everyone else's disadvantage (patent trolls). Investment in new ideas slows as money becomes earmarked to legal cases, small companies who can't afford millions of patents are trampled on and real inventors are left with nothing for their work, simply being unable to pay the fees to keep patents, let alone fight the legal battles. Whilst there are some sound arguments for keeping patents in some form, the complete abolition would be a great deal better than what we have now, for innovation, inventors, small businesses and the general consumer.

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