Oh, come on! Aren’t patent lawsuits just getting a little ridiculous now?
For the record, Noah made an excellent point that lawsuits are pretty much common operating procedure in the big old tech biz. But even so, it just seems like the litigation is coming at breakneck speed, and practically everyone is being accused of infringing on something these days.
On the hot seat this time are AT&T, LG, Motorola, Research In Motion, Samsung, Sanyo, and quite notably Apple. (I can almost hear some of your thoughts as I write this; “Ha! Serves them right!”) A Texas-based company called Smartphone Technologies alleges that the majority of these defendants violated its rights over a patent called “Personal Communications Internetworking.”
In Apple’s case, however, the accusation involves more than one patent; there are, in fact, six of them related to Bluetooth, mobile e-mail syncing, bandwidth, power conservation, single-step setup, and personal computers “providing telephone capabilities.”
Is Apple’s high-profile suit against HTC the spark that lit this powder keg? That’s tough to say. Smartphones are undeniably hot, and just like with all trending industries, the companies behind them would’ve done battle (in and out of the courtroom) regardless of whoever’s big silly, stupid stone was cast into the mainstream spotlight first.
But in case you thought that Cupertino’s defense over six measly patents seems unfair, considering the 20 it cried foul over in the HTC case, here’s an interesting factoid: Aside from this situation, Apple’s in the hot seat for 47 other patent cases, some dating back to 2009.
Clearly there’s long been a target drawn on the chest of the iPhone maker. But only time will tell if that big red bull’s eye isn’t just a little bit bigger now.
For the full rundown of the key patents in this case, hit up AppleInsider at the link below.
Lately, I’ve been wondering if the problem is actually with companies suing each other. Just maybe, the #Fail lies in the weaknesses in our patent laws that allow frivolous or meritless cases.
From the US Patent and Trademark Office website:
A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the Patent and Trademark Office… The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention.
The site defines an invention as:
any art or process (way of doing or making things), machine, manufacture, design, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, or any variety of plant, which is or may be patentable under the patent laws of the United States.
Well that’s vague. “Art or process” doesn’t seem very well defined, which leaves several general concepts open to patenting. (I have a “way of doing” things, like serving dinner. Can I sue any restaurant that dares to serve paying customers using the same fork/spoon combo move I use?)
I’m no patent expert (and if you are, please weigh in here), but it seems like so many cases are based on pretty feeble claims. And instead of companies investing their resources in R&D, they waste precious time and money suing each other over these concepts. Then what happens? Innovation suffers. Not just because these companies distract themselves and each other with this. But because laying claim to an idea that others could actually take further might also be what’s keeping us from speeding forward. And I’m not just talking about mobile phones or consumer technology — there’s medicine, pharmaceuticals, assistive devices, automobiles… things that could drastically improve the quality of life for people.
I once stood staunchly behind the idea of, “Let no man take what is yours.” Now, in light of current patent laws, I’m really not so sure. If you sit on a good idea or concept, is it fair to prevent anyone else from bringing it forward?