While it may be easy to take sides, it is tough to completely blame the combatants in the patent wars. All sides recognize we have a lousy system that leads to the kind of expensive legal wrangling we now see going on. Certainly, if a company has intellectual property that it needs to protect there needs to be a mechanism for that to occur. But given how apparently easy it is these days to file a patent on just about anything , it seems the system has been outrun by those who can take advantage of it, and those who have no choice but to play by the existing rules. (Did you know there is one for toast? Actually it is called a bread refreshing method). If the mechanism for protection becomes a weapon for destruction than somewhere a wrong turn has been taken.
We all know that Apple and Samsung are in a dogfight and that has led to some pretty dismaying displays, or at least displays being pulled down while the legal wrangling continues. We also know that companies seem to be arming themselves with more and more patents to better fight the ongoing battles and the ones that might come out ahead. Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility was said by many to be all about patents, although there is more to that story.
Now it seems Google has given or sold HTC some patents to help in HTC’s legal maneuvering in its battles with Apple. Some are saying this may be the trigger that gets Apple to finally go after Google in this ongoing dispute instead of targeting HTC, Samsung, and others. Of course others are wondering when and if Google will step forward on its own to indemnify its partners as well.
I imagine this will go on an on, because the current system not only allows it, it essentially requires this kind of behavior. Human nature being what it is, we’re seeing all sorts of motivations driving that system and the results of it almost to the point of an Ionesco farce. The fact that the system can allow for a breed of greedy lawyers that everyone calls Patent Trolls to emerge (and in some cases prosper) ought to be an indicator that something is woefully wrong.
But maybe that’s what’s needed to correct something that is so obviously wrong. While it seems like a tit-for-tat exchange at times, it used to be assumed that all things would eventually get settled with a few checks being exchanged. That may happen in these latest dust ups as well. But, looking at this with sort of an anarchist bent, I’m hoping that the current skirmishes will actually lead to a complete breakdown of the system, after which we might see some sanity and common sense prevail.
Yeah, I know I’m dreaming.
If you’re interested in learning more about this, I’d recommend listening to this episode of This American Life entitled When Patents Attack.