Set aside all the hanky panky about the U.S. jury’s $1.05 bil. verdict in favor of Apple over Samsung Electronics in their patent dispute.
The real issue is whether the framework of the century-old patent laws, which served as the basis for the San Jose decision, has outlived its essential usefulness for inspiring innovation.
The essential process of this involves building upon and improving the works of others. This was precisely the real genius of the late Steve Jobs as he converted the touch-screen computer from a colossal flop to a mainstream consumer device and invented smartphones on the basis of ideas that he couldn’t claim to be his and his alone.
As described in a New Yorker piece, the Apple founder’s talent was “more editorial than inventive.”
Thus, there is more than a hint of irony that Apple has been as aggressive in exploiting the structure of patent laws, which are tied to the idea that innovation is wholly a product of isolated, individual brilliance.
In throwing out Apple’s patent case against Google in July, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner ridiculed Apple’s claims over several functions like swiping to unlock a phone to register his disdain over how absurd patent wrangling between technology companies are becoming.
For Posner, the San Jose verdict may elicit the same response.
Kim Ki-chang, a Korea University law professor who has been actively involved in technology-related legal debates here, described Apple’s legal moves as a gross abuse of intellectual property law.
“I think the whole case highlights the limitations and side effects of patent laws, which I believed need to be entirely rebooted. Throughout its short history of around 100 years, the supporters of patent laws described them as a key requirement to inspire innovation. In reality, however, it has been killing innovation and providing an easy way for dominant companies to cement their dominance, fair trade ideals be damned,’’ Kim said.
“So does this mean that Apple is the only handset maker in the world that should be allowed to produce smartphones with curved corners? We live in a highly-developed, complicated world where it’s impossible for a company to produce a product without stepping on a patent or two. Now, only the biggest companies that can swallow enormous legal fees are allowed to defend their market positions, while smaller firms are easily buried under a pile of lawsuits, taking innovation with them.
“Competition laws provide wide access to critical technologies under the principles of reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing. So while Samsung can’t get paid extra for its essential technology in wireless patents, Apple can get paid massively for design patents that are considered trivial, and there is some irony in this.’’
Kim claims that it would be ideal to expand the areas covered by the principles of “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms,’’ which are aimed at allowing companies to access wider ranges of technologies by paying licensing fees.