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Apple has won a massive victory against Samsung (to the tune of US$1.05bn) in its patent infringement case.
Although Apple might be a little miffed that they were awarded less than half of the US$2.5bn they sought, I doubt they can really be too upset at the court's judgment.
A billion is a pretty big number.
Well if my mental arithmetic is right, a stack of a billion sheets of regular A4 paper sheets would be some 10Kms high. That's a *big* number.
Yes, a *big* win for Apple.
But was it a big win for the industry as a whole?
Patents are an essential way for innovators, inventors and developers to protect their hard-earned ideas against exploitation by others.
Without the protection that patents offer then it would be much harder to obtain the funding that such innovation and invention requires -- and almost impossible to turn a good idea into a profitable enterprise.
However, I think it's time we took a good long look at what is deserving of patent protection and what is not.
Apple has a long history of innovation, producing ideas and concepts that are deserving of patent protection - but they also have a long history of claiming patent protection for frivolous things and concepts that weren't really their own original works in the first place.
I recall that when the Mac first came out, with its highly revolutionary (for the PC market) GUI interface and virtual desktop.
Other companies soon jumped on board -- Digital Research with GEM and Microsoft with Windows.
Apple sought to sue these companies for copying their "look and feel" -- even though Apple's own desktop had been overtly stolen from the SUN PARC GUI.
And now, so I gather, one of Apple's claims was that it invented the iPhone concept of a flat touch-screen in a case with rounded corners.
Um... excuse me?
Rounded corners can be patented?
Touchscreens were an Apple invention?
It strikes me that there is plenty of prior art for both.
However, it's not always about who's right -- all too often it's about who has the best lawyers, which way the judge/jury leans and how important a company might be to the national economy of the country in which the court presides.
Yes, some of Samsung's products look very similar to some of Apple's -- but compare a Toyota, to a Honda, to almost any other contemporary 4-door saloon and you'll find that function defines form -- they're all virtually identical when you stand far enough away that you can't see the manufacturer's logo.
Personally, I'm all for providing true innovation, especially at a technical or scientific level -- but as far as I can see, things such as "styling" ought to be covered by some other form of IP protection -- perhaps trademark or copyright.
If we try to lump all aspects of a product's features under the patent umbrella then we effectively cheapen and perhaps weaken the whole concept of patents.
The place for frivolous or more trivial IP protection is (IMHO) trademarks. Just as Cadbury has trademarked its particular shade of purple and the Yellow Pages has protection for the colour yellow, perhaps we ought to move things such as "look and feel" out of the patent arena and into the trademark one.
What are readers' thoughts?
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