Great article by Florian Mueller about the challenges Apple faces in its “thermonuclear war” of patent lawsuits against Android OEMs, particularly Samsung.
I have had discussions on Twitter and email with Apple fans who find it hard to believe that Apple, after revolutionizing the market, can’t prevent companies like Google and Samsung from providing some of the same functionality. But Apple, like everyone else in this field of incremental innovations, is standing on the shoulders of giants. A smartphone or tablet is a mobile computer, but Apple does not own all computing technology. Apple achieved key breakthroughs for those product categories. … But Apple didn’t create all of this singlehandedly on a green field.
People often ask me, accusingly, why I criticize the patent system yet support Apple enforcing their patents offensively. The short answer is that I don’t. As you can see from these trials, the patent system really isn’t serving its purpose even for huge companies, let alone small businesses and individuals who can’t afford $40,000 to get a patent and millions more to enforce it.
The idea of the patent system is sold to gullible people as a necessary protector of small inventors — which is a nice fairy tale, and nothing more — and it reinforces the destructive but all-too-common fallacy that great ideas are rare, novel, unique, and immediately so valuable that simply having a great idea will suddenly cause somebody, somewhere, somehow to make you rich and you’ll never have any problems again.
We therefore value ideas above their execution, and that’s exactly how the patent system is designed, despite history showing that good execution is far more important and provides far more value to society in almost every instance regardless of who filed the first patent on the underlying idea. (Not to mention the value to society of a vibrant market of diverse, competing alternatives.)
Like most laws and policies that chiefly benefit lawyers and big business, our voters, lobbyists, and politicians will keep supporting the patent fairy tale indefinitely as the rest of us get taxed, shaken down, or bankrupted by its reality.
None of them are ever going to agree, within any of our lifetimes, that the dysfunction in the patent system is inherent to the entire concept of patents. Trolls, NPEs, and East Texas aren’t the problem — they’re just distractions. No “reform” will ever really fix patents because it’s just not possible to.
As for Apple and Samsung, while it probably isn’t legally possible to protect innovative UI — and that’s a net win for society — the best we can do is hold ourselves to high ethical standards. Samsung is institutionally and permanently tasteless, shameless, and crass to its core. They are, and always have been, professional rip-offs. If you want to support them, that’s on you.
Personally, while I don’t believe patents should legally protect this sort of thing (or anything), I value originality enough to vote with my publicly stated opinions and buying choices.