When tech companies are suing, they're not innovating

Sep 03, 2012 by Mcclatchy-tribune News Service

Apple Inc. won a billion-dollar victory in its patent-infringement lawsuit against Samsung Electronics Co. last week. But the core of the story may be that Apple is running scared.

One of the key questions that arose during the trial in federal court in San Jose, Calif., was why Samsung? Why not other smartphone manufacturers - Motorola or HTC, for example - that run Android systems? Tech-watchers say Apple targeted Samsung because the South Korean corporation is the only one of the iPhone's competitors that is making significant money.

And therein lies the secret of the patent wars.

"This is the death knell for Apple, which I know is an odd thing to say," David K. Levine, John H. Biggs Distinguished Professor of Economics at Washington University, said Monday. "But the issue is you either build great products or you spend your time suing people."

Mr. Levine and Michele Boldrin, chairman of the Washington University economics department, wrote the 2008 book "Against Intellectual Monopoly," published by Cambridge University Press.

Mr. Levine said the fact that Apple went to court suggested that for the first time, Apple was feeling the threat of a competitor that can muster the icons, pinch-pressers and bounce-scrollers needed to give Apple's a run.

He said it's "pretty crazy" to patent such smartphone design features as bounce-back and icons on grids, which were done decades ago on computers, and devices with rounded corners, a shape familiar to anyone who has ever held a stone.

Lots of blame for the ruling and the underlying problems that led to the court case is being laid at the feet of the U.S. , which patent attorneys say is understaffed, underfunded and not competent at this time to judge increasingly complex .

Patents are intended to be protection for a real investment of time, effort, sweat equity and money, Mr. Levine said. When they work correctly, patents encourage and reward innovation. Instead, he noted, patents in the information technology field have become competitive weapons with companies investing in large patent portfolios and teams of attorneys who are tasked solely with developing patent applications and getting them processed.

"The patent system long ago took leave of common sense," he said.

Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, another critic of the patent process, tossed out an Apple lawsuit against Motorola in June, writing that patents have become a way to provide "a windfall to the [ holder] and a form of punitive rather than compensatory damages imposed on the infringer."

So why should you care if Samsung, Apple or the Acme Co. designed, modified or dreamed up the phone you carry?

Other than the fact that you could wind up paying more for a Samsung Galaxy, it's that future design and innovation could be thwarted.

One thing to note, however, is that technological property theft is nothing new. Apple was famously accused of stealing its signature graphic display feature from Xerox in 1979.

Apple later sued Microsoft, accusing it of stealing software to create Windows. Microsoft's Bill Gates' retort to 's Steve Jobs has become a classic: "Steve, just because you broke into Xerox's house before I did and took the TV doesn't mean I can't go in later and take the stereo."

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User comments : 10

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rwinners
1 / 5 (2) Sep 03, 2012
Apple should be frightened. They will be knocked off their cultist throne in the not too distant future. Sell sell sell.... OR not. Apple may rule the world .... or not...
kochevnik
3 / 5 (2) Sep 03, 2012
Apple is coasting on Job's momentum, hoping the shareholders continue shelling out for yet another round peddling yesterday's candy apple crap.
Ophelia
1 / 5 (1) Sep 03, 2012
Yeah, those Apple people are such scumbags.

Here's how Samsung flew bloggers halfway around the world, then threatened to leave them there at http://thenextweb...d-leave/
kochevnik
1 / 5 (2) Sep 03, 2012
Here's how Samsung flew bloggers halfway around the world
What does that have to do with my smartphone? Frankly I too am tired of freeloading hipsters. Even now some from outlying provinces try that hippy generation me crap in shared housing, which can earn a good beating in Moscow.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Sep 04, 2012
The thing about Microsoft, Apple and Xerox back in the day was that Apple was trying to claim Copyright on the features they copied from Xerox.

Microsoft had lisenced the use of the features from Apple, and when Microsoft gained market share, Apple tried to squash them by litigation on a breach of contract terms. The judges basically threw the case out on the basis that the copyright was invalid, but it took several years.

And that's when Apple started to patent everything they could. And now they're trying to destroy Samsung using the very same tactic that failed in 1987, hoping that this time they win and not become marginalized again.

It's not that they're evil. It's just that they are desperate, because Apple no longer has anything to add. They re-introduced the soviet era functionalist-minimalism in design and an evangelical marketing style, but now it has nothing to offer.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Sep 04, 2012
Functionalism defined:

there should be no features about a building which are not necessary for convenience, construction, or propriety" and "all ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building".


Apple applied this to electronics for two reasons: nobody else was doing it, and minimalist designs are extremely cheap to design and manufacture. Apple's big design innovation was essentially to sell everyone the humble project box: http://www.soundl...zoom.jpg

As for the hardware that went into the box, it's never been much more than average. Even the original iPhone was two generations behind the curve on launch, and initially without the appstore it was nothing more than a glorified featurephone with half the features missing. It sold purely on hype.

That's why Apple is so nervous right now. They know they don't have anything to offer, and even their loyal followers are starting to figure it out
RkeyTeq
5 / 5 (1) Sep 04, 2012
Apple has been suing its copiers and competitors since it existed. It sued Franklin back in the days of the Apple II, it sued Microsoft and many others when they tried to copy the Mac OS, and now they are suing Samsung. All this time Apple continued innovating.
Other companies didn't sue as aggressively as Apple to protect their intelectual property: IBM, Digital, Sperry. Look at them now, mere shadows of their former glory.
Apple is an innovator that is constantly facing immitators with the same features on cheaper products. No innovating company can survive that. Apple's options are these: 1. Fight to keep their IP, race their competitors to the bottom with lower prices (and thus stop financing VERY EXPENSIVE innovation), or go bankrupt.
From experience, Apple knows that every couple of decades it must endure a period where it is fighting to protect its property just so it could survive. Apple won its previous battles and continued to innovate and thrive.
alfie_null
1 / 5 (1) Sep 04, 2012
Inculcating a culture of fan-boys and groupies seems to be useful also.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Sep 04, 2012
Fight to keep their IP


It's not their IP. They just patented it first.
CapitalismPrevails
2.5 / 5 (2) Sep 04, 2012
Apple is coasting on Job's momentum, hoping the shareholders continue shelling out for yet another round peddling yesterday's candy apple crap.

Job's died with every intention of spending 40 billion of Apple's cash for thermonuclear war against Google and their affiliates because he thought they stole patents from Apple. Honestly, i think Jobs is smiling right. Of Course, i believe lawsuits aren't as productive as R&D but what do i know.