Bad Scores, Or Bad Equipment

Is The Patent System Broken?

Slide To Unlock
Slide To Unlock

I wanted to know what all the fuss surrounding the Apple vs. Samsung was over, so I Googled it, and found this article outlining the 5 patents that are in dispute:

  • Slide to unlock – this is old as the hills. A court in Germany actually ruled that the German patent on this was invalid.
  • Links within SMS’s – This feature has been used in phones long before smartphones were commonplace by Nokia and Sony. And to be quite honest, it’s rather trivial too.
  • Auto-Correct – Apple is arguing that hitting the space bar to acknowledge the suggestion from the OS is violating its patent. Hardly, and Microsoft Word has been annoying me with this for years.
  • Background Data Sync – So Apple has a patent on background threads now?
  • Universal Search – This is nothing new…

None of these patents scream “innovation” to me. All of these are obvious and trivial features that predate even the iPhone.

The initial intent behind the patent system was to create a repository of knowledge that was publicly available. In exchange for sharing an idea through the patent system, a grantee was given exclusive economic rights to work employing the patent for a set amount of time.  Somewhere along the way something went awry. Patents apparently can be granted for anything no how trivial, even if it’s already been invented. And patents have also become a source of frivolous lawsuits from organizations (called patent trolls)  that wield their patents as a business model or to stifle innovation.

So depending on the outcome, I’ll have one of many reactions.

  1. If the jury awards Apple the full 2 billion dollars or a substantial percentage of it for these 5 patents, I’ll be utterly convinced that the patent system doesn’t work anymore.
  2. If the jury substantially mitigates the damages owed to Apple, then I’ll be convinced that the patent system isn’t hopeless, but it has a long way to go.
  3. If the jury awards Apple nothing, then I will receive great encouragement.
  4. If at a later date, a court rules that some of the patents are invalid as the “slide to unlock” patent was in Germany, then my faith in the patent system will be restored.

Anything but the the first one would be acceptable to me…

Update: Apple only got 5% of what they were asking for in damages, so #2 is satisfactory…I’m convinced the patent system isn’t beyond repair. The fact that it was only 5% made it pretty close to #3…so I’m somewhat in encouraged too. I just hope that Apple, Samsung, and all other people holding patents will try and use patents for what their designed for: innovation, not a business model or a way to stifle competition.

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