The patent system is ridiculous, but let's not get angry about it

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: February 11, 2012

It took a lot longer to start this piece than usual, and it has everything to do with the point tied to the title. I normally try to stay away from this patent dispute nonsense. I obviously have an opinion on it (who doesn't?), but it ultimately comes down to the fact that I'm not a lawyer, nor do I ever intend on trying to be one. Because I've admitted that, some of you have probably already moved on, and that's perfectly fine. So instead of dealing with this as a lawyer-want-to-be, or even trying to insinuate that I know the finer details of what's going on behind the scenes, I'm going to take it from an entirely consumer perspective.

Because, even with the career that I love, I'm still a consumer. I still buy things and I still use them. I'm a fan of technology, and not a fan boy in any shape or form. I like not being a fan boy, because it means that I can use everything and be happy about it. Or, I can use everything and be wildly upset about it. It isn't because I have some weird love or hate for one company or another, but based entirely on my usage with the device. And looking at this patent situation from the consumer's standpoint, I can say that I understand where people are coming from.

First, let me just say that I can see why some people think that these patent lawsuits don't mean anything to them, as the general consumer. Some consumers just live in their personal bubble, and don't pay any attention to the legal battles that go on, on the wider stage. Truthfully, there might not be any reason to read up on it, other than having something interesting (if that's your kind of thing) to read on a slow day. The only time it might matter is if a phone gets blocked from sale before it goes on sale. If that were to ever happen, I think you'd get a lot more attention drawn to the whole thing pretty quickly.

What I don't really understand, though, are the folks who are actually angry about this thing. And not angry because it's a legal battle, but angry because it's Apple "leading the charge." Or, simply put, just because it's Apple. Seriously, though. People are angry. Angry at one of the greatest innovators ever, Steve Jobs, and angry at one of the most profitable companies on the planet. I will admit that I think this patent situation has gotten completely out of control, and it feels like we're hearing about a new patent suit every single day, I have absolutely no desire to get angry about it.

Why? Because in 2007 Apple came out of nowhere and redefined our phones. That's just the simple truth. And since then, or even before then or during 2007, Apple has gone out of their way to make sure that their patent suitcase is thoroughly filled. And, let's also admit that that's just the way the business world works, especially when it involves around ideas that build something. Because as much as some people would love to make it as cut-and-dry as "Apple wants everyone gone," that's probably not the case at all. Furthermore, the patent situation isn't cut-and-dry at all, and involves not just the look of an idea, but the implementation as well. Plus so much more.

Apple isn't just protecting their products, or just their ideas, or their implementation. They are protecting all of them, and in the only way that seems realistically possible to a major corporation. Yes, the patent system is broken. There are some patents out there that Apple probably shouldn't have, and the same could probably be said of other companies out there, too. I'm not going to say that every patent that Apple has in their suitcase makes sense, because honestly it doesn't.

But here's how I'm looking at it, and perhaps this will make sense for you, too. I believe that while it seems like a bullish, childish way to go about business, it's just business. I also believe that Apple knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that, while they have plenty of smart people in Cupertino, that they don't have all of the smart people. There are other smart people working for every other company dug into the mobile market, including Samsung, HTC, Google and Motorola. Why is that relevant? Because those smart people should be able to figure out a different way to unlock a screen, or any other thing that Apple has attacked in recent months or years. Apple doesn't want to kill every other company out there, because that wouldn't make sense. (Plus, there wouldn't be any bragging rights for beating competition if there wasn't any competition.) I would be willing to bet that Apple wants them to actually continue to innovate and push the market forward, and if that means they have to use the court system that is put well into place, then that's what they have to do.

Lastly, I freely admit that Apple's iOS 5 wasn't all that innovative, and there are plenty of features found in the new version of Apple's mobile operating system that have been in place within Android from the get-go. And, like I said above, the patent system isn't all that great and these lawsuits have gotten out of control. But, it isn't just Apple going after every company. Even a counter-suit is considered an attack, even if you aren't first.

Does it need to change? Absolutely. Will it? Probably not. But, here's hoping.