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.
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?
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.
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.
Apple stock is record high now due to the rumor of ipad mini that has 7 inch. If this is true, then is it also a copy of other android devices that has similar "look and feel"? I see why ipad mini news is exciting, but at the same time, I wonder how Samsung and other 7inch tablet maker would react...
Chanj, I *think* the patents involved primarily are "Design Patents" rather than "Utility Patents." Loosely speaking, "Design Patents" cover visual shapes, to prevent, hypothetically, New Balance from creating a shoe that looks exactly like a Nike shoe. So Design Patents don't usually have much to do with engineering.
As the iPhone was coming out I purchased my second smart phone, the AT&T Tilt made by HTC. It had a full web browsers (I used Opera until they jumped ship to Apple), the office suite, SD card, media player and thousands of apps as well as some things that Apple has yet to implement.
I had to put up with the iSheep proclaiming how Jobs had invented the smart phone and it was perfect. Now I have to watch as Apple claims to have invented rounded corners and oval slotted speakers that were in my pocket years before.
A big problem is that we are allowing people to patent the obvious. Prior art. Boxes. The Altoids company should litigate the ass off of Apple for stealing its tin box shape.
I think that there should be a multi-level screening process to design patents and the burden of proof should be on the applicant. Show the iPhone housing to the first level and the reply should be "Prior art, rejected" and then Apple would have to show an appeals panel how this shape was unique to the function of the product and that it wasn't just another case. Patents should be unique and hard to get.
Apple should be careful who it sues because there are some critical utility patents that they have infringed on that could be taken out and used against them. Look at Google and its acquisition of Motorola Wireless. I believe that was a tactical move to say to Apple “Go ahead, we dare you”.
An English court as condemned apple on the same patent.
My old palm was working fine with the internet, also the screen was the top of the line for those times.
How may times have you looked to a Hunday side way and thought it was a BMW. I thing Hunday was the originator of the style.
Apple did not invent the computer, it not invented the GUI, it not invented the mouse and did not invent the cell phone.
Patent law were written by big boy lobbyists so they do not defend the little guy against the powerful.
DONALD.RUSS is correct, "A big problem is that we are
allowing people to patent the obvious."
The solution is not to further complicate the USPTO, but
instead realize it's limitations and streamline it.
Patent examiners can't be expected to assess
obviousness, so this is best left for litigation, if a
claimed infringement ever gets that far. The best job
for the USPTO at this point is just to be a recording
The bottom line is that the patent system was meant
to keep one entity from stealing the intellectual
property from another, but it has turned in to some
sort of game show where the first to claim a certain
arrangement of objects wins the prize. There are good
reasons why history is filled with cases where
independent entities have come up with an idea at the
same time, and I don't see a reason the patent system
should accuse one of these two entities of stealing.
With the USPTO, the government has become a barrier
to entry to the market for innocent small companies
in the name of some "invention" that is really some
arrangement that has not been published before, or
a "design" that has nothing radically new about it.
"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."
How would you know? Have you ever filed and prosecuted a patent appln? Have you ever invented anything?
All this talk of bad patents is but a red herring fabricated by a handful of large tech firms as a diversion away from the real issue...that they have no valid defense against charges they are using other parties' technologies without permission. It’s not about reforming the system. It’s about legalizing theft!
The objective of these large firms is not to fix the patent system, but to destroy it or pervert it so only they may obtain and defend patents; to make it a sport of kings. Patents are a threat against their market dominance. They would rather use their size alone to secure their market position. Patents of others, especially small entities, jeopardize that. For example, the proposed change to eliminate the use of injunctions would only further encourage blatant infringement. Any large company would merely force you to make them take a license. They would have little to lose. Everything would be litigated to death -if a small entity can come up with the cash to pursue. That's what these large multinationals are betting against.
Please see http://truereform.piausa.org/default.html for a different and informed view on the patent system.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.