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Apple v. Samsung case highlights money to be made from patent litigation

Column Spare a career change, guv?
Fri Aug 31 2012, 17:02

IS IT TOO LATE for a career change? Probably. That's a shame as I'm quite keen on becoming a patent expert.

We've seen this month that it truly is a growing industry and one where a lot of money changes hands. So, pretty far removed from information technology journalism.

Look at Samsung and Apple. The former might have to pay the latter $1bn because presumably Apple had the more convincing arguments, or maybe just the better patent lawyers.

Otherwise, in a world where I hope that a shred of common sense remains, no one would have paid anyone anything and companies would have to accept that usability features and rounded corners on mobile phones and tablets are just good ideas and ones that can't be protected.

The Apple v. Samsung case really ought to shame the industry. It let a jury, also known as "people off the street", decide on liability and damages amounts and kept a lot of lawyers in alligator skin shoes.

You get the impression that even the judge that presided over the case found the whole thing to be a dreadfully tiresome event. And while it is probably the lawyers that benefited the most from the whole ordeal, no one else is. Especially not the consumer.

Earlier this week the Electronic Frontier Foundation called the Apple win a loss for innovation and I must say that I agree with it. The software patent situation in the US is a terrible mess and it is getting in the way of consumer choice and innovation.

Samsung, for example, faces a US sales ban on eight of its devices, the Galaxy S2, Epic 4G, Skyrocket, Galaxy, Galaxy S 4G, Galaxy S Showcase, Droid Charge and Galaxy Prevail.

Is that good for consumers? Heck no. It's good for Apple. It means that the company, which already has the smartphone market by the short hairs, is likely to keep its grip just where it is.

Whether the phones are similar or not, I don't really care. Most of the trousers i wear have something in common, like two legs and some pockets, and I'd hate to live in a world where one firm dictated my trousers. But forgetting my trousers, for now, the EFF put it much better.

"Apple and Samsung would be better off - and their consumers would be better served - if the tech giants took their epic patent battle out of the courtroom and into the marketplace," wrote EFF staff attorney Julie Samuels in a blog post.

"This case is just the latest in a long line of high-stakes patent litigation, each an instance of a patent system fundamentally unmoored from its constitutional goal. It is time for this to stop. The answer to competition is, or should be, more innovation, not courtroom battles that cost millions upon millions of dollars and drain judicial resources. Apple v. Samsung demonstrates so much of what ails our patent system."

The EFF, like me, believes that the best thing about the case is that it has exposed just how awful the patent situation has become in the US.

Put simply, it comes down to playground tactics. If you are the biggest kid in the playground and have all the tennis balls. People are going to have to come to you if they want to play with a ball. Apple, in this case was holding all the balls and as a result its been able to stop anyone from playing anything without paying it some sort of a tribute.

You won't find me agreeing with technology companies often, but I found myself nodding in agreement when the following statement was issued forth from the Korean firm Samsung.

"The verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer. It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices."

Yes, I expect that it will. That's good for Apple and bad, bad, bad news for the rest of us. µ


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