SAN JOSE – The patent system, as much as anything, is what’s on trial in the Apple vs. Samsung case about to go to the jury here.
In my opinion, Apple did something novel with the iPhone: It delivered a handset that gave you access to an open Web browser in a way that was easy to navigate. But that’s not what’s at issue in this case.
I fault the patent system for not being flexible and easy-to-use enough to capture what should be at stake here. The patent system is stuck in old, arcane language. It’s deluged by a daily tsumani of applications and old patents, many of which were granted by examiners who lacked the expertise, time, systems—and budget--to conduct thorough reviews.
In the fall of 2007, I was talking to Sun co-founder and Google angel investor Andy Bechtolsheim backstage at a conference. He pulled out his iPhone and exclaimed, “Finally somebody got it!”
He went on to talk about how there had been many fine handsets before but never one on which you could browse the Web. Past handsets had screens that were too small, or they only accessed “walled gardens” created by carriers, or they had user interfaces so inscrutable that users gave up in frustration before they got to a useful page. Often the cellular networks and apps processors were just too slow to deliver and render a Web page in a reasonable amount of time.
The iPhone was the first device to bust through all that and deliver something so compelling it became the new personal computer.
Some of that achievement had nothing to do with Apple’s invention of anything. Cellular networks and apps processors got more powerful. Low power screens got bigger and brighter. Apple didn’t invent these things, but it was the first to see, understand and implement well something based on these trends.
I give Apple kudos for its Aha! moment and its excellent execution. But can any of that be expressed in today’s patents or trademarks? There’s the rub.
That's correct. The main issue in the Apple-Samsung case seems to be design patents - protection on industrial design. A lot of articles analyzing the case criticize design patents because they are easy to get and the innovation they protect is frivolous, and because the legal protections they create are overly strong.
I am a patent attorney and experienced engineer. I don't understand how the patent system hurts the macro-level economy, as stated by pcsalex.
At its best, the patent system promotes innovation. It encourages inventors to innovate by offering them a time-limited monopoly on their invention. In return, the inventor must make the invention public. This often creates a financial incentive for the inventor to make his or her technology public, so that the inventor can reap financial benefit from his or her invention and so that the invention can be used by anyone after the patent term expires. Because of this, the U.S. Patent Office has become one of the largest and most comprehensive organized libraries for freely-available technology.
At its worst, the patent system hampers innovation by granting patents on so-called frivolous inventions. This can overcrowd a particular industry with lots of little technology monopolies so that no one can innovate without infringing someone else's patent. This tends to happen in industries where there are a lot of players and heavy competition - like the cell phone industry.
For most industries the patent system operates somewhere in the middle, but generally provides a macro-economic benefit. Additionally, patents can be extremely beneficial to small companies, especially to start-ups that need to carve a technological niche and attract investment. (But you usually don't hear about these stories in the news). So I am confused by the statement that the patent system hurts the macro-level economy and serves only individual companies.
Not to diminish the valid points you're raising here, but does the Apple-Samsung case really have much to do with Engineering? I think these are mostly, if not entirely, Design Patents rather than Utility Patents, right?
the US patent system is not just archaic, but it hurts the US economy in global by serving individual companies, and the fact that the actual value of the US patents is fare behind of other is still not recognized. Basically the only beneficiary of the patent system are the lawyers, who utilizing the fact of the very low level of technical intelligence of the jury.
I think few would dispute that the current patent system is deeply flawed and inadequate. However, it's not clear to me (or perhaps anyone) how the patent system might be altered to address the issues here or provide "justice." The legal system, too, may be ill-equipped.
The trial (and great reporting on it) has focused on a few specific patents related to the shape of the products, etc. When someone brings a great product to market, competitors are obligated to study it and learn from it and try to incorporate the features and characteristics that have made it popular into a design of their own. Ideally, this new design would not only take a page from the market leader but also offer new innovation. This is the way it works across nearly all industries and has been the case for some time. I don't know that there is anything we can or should do to stop this. What riles some people up in this case is the idea that Samsung simply created a copycat product without adding new innovation or raising the bar.
There is not a reasonable patent law that can protect you from others doing a GOOD product. This is about invention, Apple also copied many of its competitors. Even when they improved the design significantly this is not a reason to get a patent. What they don't like is competition, but there are others that can design good systems too.
Rick, you hit the head of the issues. One being the patent granting itself is old and probably flawed as it is nearly impossible to gauge the genuine patents. Another issue with the current case at hand is that both Apple and Samsung did not invent anything but only innovated (though to decide who innovated more) the smartphone technologies.
This is always the problem. You come up with a great product and your competition copies it. It can be a very blatant copy or something more subtle. Either way, your competitor take part of your market share. Patent law can not stop this, but may slow it. In the end, the consumer wins. The market price for these products will get closer to low margin with competition.
IANAL, but my understanding is that in the USA there is a principle called "jury nullification", described quite well on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification_in_the_United_States
The idea behind jury nullification is that a jury can acquit if they find a law unjust, no matter how the judge instructed them. Justice is in the hands of the jury alone. Legal counsel do not want justice, they want to win. Judges are bound by the law, and not always impartial. So it's up to juries to see that justice is done -- one case at a time.
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