Pull your phone out! I will bet you $500 in Monopoly money it’s rectangular. Am I right? I probably was. Now while you contemplate on how you will get me my money, let me tell you an interesting fact: Apple patented the shape of your phone.
Yep that’s correct, folks. Apple claims to have invented the rectangle and the U.S. Courts agree. Spread the word. We can see from this ludicrous example that the United States Patent system is broken. Companies like Apple are manipulating these laws to their advantage.
A jury returned a verdict Aug. 24 that rattled the smartphone industry. The jury fully supported the claims made by Apple that Samsung copied Apple’s intellectual property, including its very broad patent designs for its “electronic devices.” Subsequently, Samsung must now pay a whopping $1.05 billion in “damages” caused.
What were the damages caused by Samsung? According to the jury, Samsung was guilty of willfully infringing on the patents that allows one to drag documents, rotate by twisting and zoom in by pinching.
Additionally, the patents for the rubber-band effect seen when one scrolls too far in a document, the ability to scroll through documents with one finger and the tap-zoom function found in many apps were also “infringed” upon.
There were two design patents Samsung supposedly violated. Somehow (with the use of a very strong legal team) Apple was able to patent the rectangle. Yes, the rectangle. In court, Apple successfully defended the ludicrous claim that a rectangular phone with rounded edges was an idea of their “innovative” engineers.
Yes, that was Apple’s idea of “thinking differently.” And they sued for it. They also sued Samsung for its use of the square grid display of apps.
The claims Apple made were unbelievable. The fact that they won the court case was even more so. However, Apple and Samsung’s case wasn’t limited to the United States. By July 2012, Samsung and Apple were battling almost 50 lawsuits around the globe with billions of dollars in damages claimed between them.
And though Apple won in the United States, Samsung won rulings in Japan and South Korea. In addition, Samsung celebrated another win when a German court dutifully dismissed the patent infringement claim by Apple.
As if 50 lawsuits weren’t enough, Apple also engaged in a lawsuit with a Polish online grocery chain called A.pl. Apple’s latest target is being accused of trademark infringement. In addition, Apple is suing for the similar name: accusing the company of stealing its reputation through a similar sounding name. The “a” portion of the name is derived from the first letter of the Polish alphabet, while the ”pl” portion is derived from the Internet domain of Poland. Of course, Apple isn’t facing much success with this lawsuit.
Observing a trend in the lawsuits of Apple? It seems as if their claims aren’t withholding in the international courts. What does this say about the U.S. patent system? I think that the Apple vs. Samsung case is a prime example as to why the U.S. patent system needs reformation.
We all know about when the Wright Brothers made history in December 1903. But many of us are unaware of the patent war that raged in 1906. The Wrights decided to sue Glenn Curtis, as well as many others, based on the notion of patent infringement.
The Wrights claimed that Curtis’s company’s aircraft designs were “too similar.” The problem was that the Wrights’ patents were so broad it was impossible to build a vehicle capable of flight without infringing upon them.
World War I conveniently dawned upon us and the U.S. government was forced to step in and create a temporary patent for wartime production, which is still effective today. If we listened to the echoes of history, we would realize excessive intellectual property rights lead to the loss of innovation, diversity in the market and exorbitant prices.
Intellectual property rights are based on the notion that copying will destroy creativity. Theoretically, it’s cheaper to copy something than invest in innovation. If innovators are unprotected, they won’t invest in innovation. That’s how the slippery slope story goes.
Sadly, stories have no place in the real world. Imitation has fueled a world of innovation and while rules against copying are needed, they mostly serve to slow down innovation.
In the real world, companies copy and succeed. The iPod wasn’t the first digital music player, nor was the Mac the first personal computer. “Imitations” of Apple products not only invite diversity, but also lower the cost of the general product.
In India, where pharmaceutical laws are nonexistent, domestic firms have become experts at copying medicine and making it extremely affordable. Domestic production has stimulated the economy and made the drugs more accessible to the public.
If you think this is wrong, just look at the U.S. pharmaceutical system, which is split between inventors and imitators. Your local Wal-mart will most likely have the generic form of Lipitor, the country’s most popular statin, for $4 as opposed to $60. Copying has also led to the creation of McDonalds, Playboy and Pampers.
So how do we fix the system? Legislative reform first; we can start by having companies provide for concise and non-vague patents. Today, patents are worded broadly which allows for companies to sue on their own interpretation.
Companies shouldn’t be able to patent standards like Apple has done with the rectangle or the Wright brothers did with the plane. They should be forced to patent innovative and original ideas.
To branch off of this point, we should sharply limit the amount of damages an entity would win in a lawsuit, if it came to that point. Theoretically, this would encourage open licensing because it would be more profitable than litigation. We should also consider implementing a compulsory licensing scheme for patents, which already exist in the U.K., Germany, Australia and Japan. Compulsory licensing forces patent holders to license patents at commercially viable rates in an appropriate amount of time.
In a 1994 interview, Steve Jobs reverberated Picasso’s defining principle “good artists copy, great artists steal.”Jobs went on to say that at Apple, “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
Though ironic, Job’s statement and the results of the Apple v. Samsung lawsuit draw on a serious problem in today’s society. Patent wars riddle our news headlines and, day after day, our broken system stifles innovation.
Monopolies like Apple (if you would like to argue this point, email me), are continually being introduced and reinforced, while diversity is being cut in the jugular. Prices are soaring and products are becoming rather drab. Reformation of our patent system is imperative to the future of innovation.
As of now, we live in the most innovative period of human history – let’s open our eyes and capitalize on the situation instead of fighting for our paychecks. The patent problem isn’t hard to solve. We just need to “think differently.”
Jai Kumar Mediratta is a Freshman Biochemistry, Biology and German. Follow him on Twitter @jaaaihooo. Reach him at email@example.com.