Friday, August 24, 2012

There are only losers in patent war

Jurors just awarded $1.05 billion to Apple against Samsung.  Samsung's claim of "form follows function" did not fly.  Apple just won a huge victory against Samsung.  Samsung lost big.  Although Samsung will appeal, it's not clear whether Samsung will be able to reverse the verdict completely.

So what does this verdict mean to you and me?

First, it may mean we no longer get Samsung phone with iPhone-look-alike interface in the U.S.  Second, it means Apple gets to sue anyone who uses pinch-to-zoom and slide-to-unlock on any mobile device to come for the next 20 years or so.  And that means companies like Samsung will come up with their own touch interface standard and lock-unlock gesture to get around Apple's prior art.

Third, it also means that there will be many more patent suits to follow.  Not just from Apple and Samsung, but from Google, Microsoft, Nokia, and others against their competitors.  There are many tens of thousands of software patents granted.  All these patents have owners and they have just been inspired by Apple's win over Samsung.

I am all for rewarding innovator.  We should continue to incentivize inventors to come up with new innovations.  That's the engine of our economic growth.  But we should balance inventor's right with newcomer's right to evolve the original idea.  When we tilt the scale in favor of existing inventor for 20 years after the patent award, it puts a real damper on everyone else's right to build on top of earlier ideas.  We have to remember that all innovation is made on the shoulders of earlier inventors.

Ultimately this patent war between Apple and Samsung is not about deciding whether Galaxy phone looks like iPhone.  It is an example of how much our software patent system is broken.  Software patent is meant to encourage innovation by protecting inventors.  Clearly our software patent rules are not set up to do that.

We have to fix the system.  Everyone under a broken system will be a loser.

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