Samsung vs Software Patents

You probably heard of the ruling in the Apple vs Samsung case. Even though the judge asked Apple’s lawyers if they were smoking pot, the jury went ahead decided that Samsung should pay Apple over a billion US dollars in damages.

It’s tempting to label Apple the bad guy here and to call the jury a bunch of incompetent dumbfucks who were mislead by a biased jury foreman. But Apple is simply exercising their right as a patent owner to try their patents in court. The jury decided that Samsung had in fact violated some of Apple’s patents and awarded the California company a ridiculous amount of money based on what I can only assume was their gut feeling.

The actual problem here is not fact that Apple has realized that Samsung’s smartphones are a relevant threat to the iPhone and that the late Steve Jobs vowed to destroy Android. The problem is the patent system: You are allowed to patent very broad solutions to simple problems. If you give a group of people a simple problem, most of them will probably come up with the same or very similar solutions. Wouldn’t it be a bad idea to allow only one of these people to use those solutions? A good example of this from the world of software patents is Apple’s US8046721: “Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image”. Basically it gives Apple exclusive rights to use slide to unlock on their iDevices.

“I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.” - Steve Jobs

The also have a design patent that covers a rectangular shape with rounded corners, USD504889. This is the shape of pretty much every single phone available, both dumb and smart. And perhaps even your TV. It’s like awarding IKEA a patent for the chair.

In the short run we as consumers will suffer from the verdict in the Apple vs Samsung case. Samsung’s stocks suffered a major beating on opening day after the verdict and its likely that other phone manufactures would like to avoid the same and hold back on releasing new phones. In the long run, however, consumers might gain from this, because it will force radical innovation on all fronts. With Apple’s “rectangle with rounded corners”-patent, other manufacturers are forced to think out of the box. Way, way out of the box.

The battle between Apple and Samsung will be fought all the way to the top of the legal system. It’s great that Samsung has decided not to cave in because someone’s got to take this fight. Not to bring Apple to its knees, but to make sure the right people realize how insanely stupid broad patents are and that all of them should be nullified.

But I doubt that we’ll ever see that actually happen. So if you consider changing careers, patent lawyer might not be a bad idea because this thing isn’t going to be over any time soon.


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