The Apple v. Samsung case exposes vast gray areas in today's patent laws and practices in high-tech.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — I am humbled by vast stretches of gray area in the field of patents I see as I sit in on the second big Apple v. Samsung trial here.
Lives have been devoted to interpreting patent law. In this San Jose court room, 2 billion dollars is at stake.
In the end, it can be very hard to answer simple questions: What did you invent? Did you protect it? Did you copy it? Is it valuable?
For instance, Apple does not employ in the iPhone at least some of the five patents it is suing Samsung for infringing. It chose to implement in its smartphones all the patent concepts, but sometimes in different ways from what the patent claims describe.
That fact doesn't give Samsung a get-out-of-jail-free card. It may still infringe the patents.
Court exhibits show dozens of pages of side-by-side comparisons Samsung designers made of the iPhone and prototype Samsung phones. Each page dissects a specific iPhone feature and recommends how the Samsung phone can more closely follow it. Many pages simply point to ways Samsung can copy Apple to give users a "fun factor."
Samsung attorneys say Samsung engineers were simply benchmarking industry practices that they implemented in ways different from the Apple patents. In this way, they suggest, neither Apple nor Samsung used the patents.
I can imagine two very different processes -- one for writing up patent claims for a cool idea like how to unlock a phone, another for how to write the code that implements it. I can imagine the two diverging and designers feeling no need to resolve the differences in the products and patents.
A gray fog also surrounds how judges and lawyers interpret patent claims in court. These kinds of nuances in how patent claims are written, implemented, and interpreted are normal human processes -- and they have huge implications.
In the Apple v. Samsung case some experts estimate the value of the individual patents at about $8 per phone. In a separate case in Chicago at least one related patent apparently was licensed for 60 cents per phone. The judge in the Apple case noted there were many differences in the two cases, including the patent claims involved and how the claims were interpreted.
One of the Apple patents at issue is #8,046,721 the slide-to-unblock patent. One Internet wag used the image below to lampoon the notion it could be a patent at all. Would that it were so simple to just laugh and dismiss all these ideas as so much hogwash.
Sitting in on this new round of the Apple v. Samsung case, I am humbled at how little I know and grateful I can witness this fascinating debate unfold.
This is one version of a couple of efforts on the Web to lampoon one patent in the Apple v. Samsung case.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times