Apple-Samsung Patent Case Highlights Broken System
The largest patent case in history starts today, with Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Samsung squaring off over smartphone and tablet design.
Apple is seeking $2.5 billion in damages, which would dwarf any other reward in a patent case. However, the larger issue may be whether Samsung is allowed to sell its products in the U.S.
Judge Lucy Koh has already ordered an injunction on Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 pending resolution of the case. Legal watchers cite the injunction as a sign of just how strong a case Apple may have.
In this case, jurors can't be told about the selling ban so as to remain unbiased. However, in patent cases of this nature the judge is allowed to overrule a jury decision if they see fit.
This case has been a long time coming as Patent wrangling has become more and more combative in recent years.
Apple founder Steve Jobs declared in his biography he thought the Android system was a carbon copy of Apple's UI and industrial design, saying he'd go ‘thermonuclear' in an effort to stop the stealing. That's exactly what's happening today, with a settlement out of the question.
More than money is at stake in this suit. A worst-case scenario for Samsung would see Apple awarded all damages and Samsung barred from selling its products in the U.S., and possibly other countries as well. Already, there is an injunction in effect in Germany against Samsung.
The worst case for Apple would see the charges dropped. Further, Samsung has counter-sued with retaliatory claims, saying Apple is infringing on other telecommunications patents. Should Apple lose that case, it would have to pay damages of its own.
The long and the short of the matter is, consumers will lose no matter who wins. Either Samsung's or Apple's products are likely to increase in price, while the patent system further tamps down on innovation, again.
Once conceived of as the best way to protect intellectual property, the patent system simply hasn't kept up with the digital age. Software UI is complex enough that it's nearly impossible not to infringe on someone's patents creating it. And, when interface styles like pinch-to-zoom or pop-up notifications are fair game for patents, there really isn't any way to create software without doing something that someone has done before.
That's why patent portfolios have become so valuable – with Kodak the most recent company auctioning some off. Apple is rumored to be heading up a group bidding on those patents – with Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) heading up a rival group.
The big dogs may be getting all the news, but one could argue that they're just fighting in an arena created by small-time patent trolls more than anything else.
While we can't know how this case will end, it highlights the fact that the patent system is terribly broken – and is in desperate need of changes.
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