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Patents, Innovation, Mobile Tech, and Why It’s All a Big Mess



Apple is hitting hard at Samsung over patent disputes trying to keep them from bringing smartphones and Tablets into the US because of similarities. The International Trade Commission (ITC) agrees with a couple of the points in Apple’s complaint. Some software developers say that they may abandon Apple and Android because of the high cost of possibly defending themselves if lawsuits are brought because of the Loadsys filings. Google hits back at Apple with some comments from Eric Schmidt. Everyone goes crazy, and the lawyers celebrate big pay days ahead.

In my view there are two underlying issues here. It’s a given that the legal system surrounding patents is broken. (Much like trademarks, copyrights, etc..) The fact that something called a patent troll can actually exist is the best evidence of this. There’s a business climate that allows this to exist and as long as it does (meaning as long as folks can make money off it) it will continue. Secondly, it is also fairly obvious that companies playing in the mobile tech world are staring at an immediate future where it is tough to innovate. Not just because of patents that others may hold, but also, you know a phone is a phone and a Tablet is a Tablet.

What does that mean? Well, simply put, while there is technology involved, our expectations are basically the same regardless of the device. We expect Tablets to be touch friendly with easy access to Apps. We expect phones to allow us to make calls by touching or clicking on a link. We expect a lot from these devices and that makes it difficult for companies to push the innovation envelope that may change the game. Push past what is expected and you run a risk with consumers. Stick with what those perceived expectations are and you either have to license what others have protected via patents, or run the risk that you’ll get sued.

This is all compounded because of the relative infancy of the market. It is also compounded by the fact that using these accepted legal proceedings is just another tool in the competitive battles that we’re looking at. Apple to most seems greedy, but they are just taking advantage of a system that allows them to do so. Keep in mind, once a shot is fired over the bow regarding infringement, it makes future decision making all that more difficult. And of course that’s the name of the game.

The legal actions will take some time to figure out, there will be an outcome, and most likely some sort of settlement. But the shadows cast by instituting the legal actions are already having their effect in meetings and planning that we aren’t hearing about just yet.



  1. GTaylor

    07/19/2011 at 5:37 pm

    Good job, Warner, right on point. And I hope that further commenter make a lot more related points.
    The patent mess and not the patent concept stifles development seriously.
    Near future focus cripples business.
    Both are based on too much reverence for competition. Competition is a generic dog. In your house and at your side it is faithful and helpful. Outside the door at night, it is a wolf. When times get bad and the wolves press close, watch your dog. If the food runs out, your dog just might remember the Lone Ranger joke he heard you tell someone.
    “Tonto, the Indians are pressing in and I think we’ve had it”
    “What do you mean we, white eye?”

  2. Anonymous

    07/19/2011 at 10:59 pm

    I would submit that the legal system surrounding the patents is not what is broken.
    It is the patent system itself
    What was conceived of as a protection for innovation has been turned on its head as a protection against competition.
    This is because patents have been granted where they never should have been – on vague ideas and concepts.  Concepts which anyone should have expected.
    Sometimes on concepts which appear decades prior in science fiction.
    It’s insane.
    But the patent office gets paid for its patents and the lawyers get paid to play in court.
    The large companies get to fight off reasonable competition.
    And the small companies are all but completely put out of business by their inability to afford such luxuries as full time legal departments to both fight patent wars as well as file for new ones by the bushel each day to use for ammo tomorrow.
    It is an unbelievable state of affairs.

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