Both Apple and Samsung are right-and wrong-and here's what I think both sides ought to do to get some sanity back into the mobile industry and the patent process.
There’s enough greatness and pettiness to go around in the cramped courtroom of Judge Lucy Koh of San Jose Federal Court where Apple and Samsung are suing each other for patent infringement.
Apple deserves some kind of acknowledgement for creating something unique with the iPhone, a distinctive looking handset that put Web access in your pocket along with a phone and music wrapped in easy to use software. In its own way, the equally distinctive iPad also was different from tablets that went before in its clear focus on consumer Web browsing with really easy-to-use software.
But how do you express that in the arcane language of a patent? The patent system is encrusted with obtuse procedures and stiff, vague language. It needs a course with Strunk and White, the masters of crisp writing and thinking. As many have noted, patents have become a quantity game, not a quality metric.
Apple did a reasonable job trying to write patents on all the neat little ideas it put into its casings and coded into software. But they should not have been written as a few dozen patents, rather they should have been written as a few dozen claims in one iPhone patent.
Imagine an iPhone patent with claims on the shape of the device, the metal bezel, the big screen, the colorful, well-lit icons on a black background that bounce back and snap to the screen. Imagine them written in plain English rather than fusty patent-ese.
There would be no problem for a jury of average San Jose Joes and Janes determining whether or not such a patent was violated.
Excuse me, now, while I proceed to take Apple off its holier-than-thou pedestal. I am as touched by anyone by the emotional language of Steve Jobs that still lives on at Apple and has been invoked often in Judge Koh’s courtroom, but let’s tell the other side of that story.
The lofty language of Steve Jobs also acts as a drug to dupe talented Apple employees into overworking and living unbalanced lives. It has been used to brainwash Apple employees into believing they are somehow better than other people that put their pants on one leg at a time.
Get real, Apple! You don’t own the rectangle with rounded corners. You didn’t invent the smartphone, capacitive touch screen displays or browsers on handsets.
You aren’t the only creators of beauty on Planet Earth. Compared to Samsung you don’t do much work on forwarding the fundamental technologies that give us the LCDs, batteries, communications networks and microprocessors we need to make cool gadgets of all kinds.
That said, you used all those components damn well. So give yourself a pat on the back, and take that chip off your shoulder while you are doing it.
And while you’re getting humble, let’s hear a little more candor about how the electronics industry uses low-cost labor. It didn’t start with you by any means, but maybe you can use your clout and fat bankroll to bring some meaningful reforms to labor practices. After all, your complex designs that require lots of hand assembly have certainly pushed the edge of this dark side of the Industrial Revolution 2.0.