A battle of epic proportions has been waging for some time now behind closed doors and in court rooms across the world. Technology giants such as Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and Apple are busy bolstering their IP (intellectual property) portfolios in an attempt to give themselves the upper hand in the court room, instead of delivering the most competitive product to their brand loyalists. Consumers may not even be aware of how this type of litigation will affect the way they interact with their mobile devices, but just about every detail of these devices is under close scrutiny. Patent litigation has now reached a boiling point, and we as consumers have the most to lose over patents that should have never seen the light of day.
To better understand exactly what patent litigation is, we have to look back at why these laws were originally created. These laws were originally passed to create a period of time, usually 10 years, in which the innovator is able to recoup the cost of the initial development and research of the product(Ament). This essentially sets them up with a temporary monopoly on the product. If there is demand for the product, and the idea fits the right place in the market, it will succeed, allowing the profits to offset the costs of development. This system begins to break down when companies are awarded a vaguely worded patent, and then continually granted additional time on their patent. This prevents their competitors from expanding and improving on the basic concept and often times, keeps them from being able to include a particular feature. Why bring this issue to light now? The system as it currently stands is broken and harmful to the end experience of the user. The system was foreseen to improve when David Kappos became head of the United States Patent and Trademark Office but now, the situation has fallen even further into a state of disrepair, with seemingly no end in sight(Fingas).
Apple is at the forefront of the most highly publicized battle about IP’s, recently attempting to block the import of all their closest competitor’s devices in the mobile market. As recent as the second quarter of 2012 Apple filed a motion to prevent the import of the HTC product line, for what they feel was unlawful use of their closely protected patents. This greatly hurts the consumer and anyone eagerly awaiting the release of HTC’s products. Does it really matter that the HTC phone shares some similarity to the Apple offerings? Apples hope was to remove that choice completely, and in doing so, improve the sale of its own product. These actions only go to further the public perception that Apple does not care about a healthy competitive landscape and instead wants to keep its strangle hold on the mobile market (Mick). While Apple does have a responsibility to its shareholders to stay profitable, does that mean it can abuse an outdated and archaic patent system clearly in need of reform to do it? What Apple is really doing is removing the public’s opportunity to choose. This is where Google steps into the picture with its android software.
Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, gave his thoughts on the issue stating,
“Literally patent wars prevent choice, prevent innovation and I think that is very bad. We are obviously working through that and trying to make sure we stay on the right side of these issues. So ultimately Google stands for innovation as opposed to patent wars. I think one of the worst things that happened in the last few years has been the belief that somehow there are so many patents in the mobile phone world, an estimated 200,000 that are overlapping and complicated and so forth, that one vendor can stop the sale of another vendor’s phones or devices wars.”(Woodburn).
It is hard to argue with a man whose company’s motto is don’t be evil. Most people instantly recognize Google as a house hold name and the only game in town as far as internet searches go. Google also owns seventy five percent of the mobile phone market as of quarter three 2012(Yarow). They are heavily invested as a company in their Android software because this puts them in direct competition with two other American technology giants, Microsoft and Apple, both of which are extremely protective of their Intellectual Properties. Sensing the increasing hostile and competitive nature of the mobile market, Google realizes that if they did not bolster their own catalog of Intellectual Properties they would not be able to stay competitive. It does not take a patent litigation specialist to see something is wrong with the current system when companies have to go out of their way to protect themselves and their products from being sued over minor similarities. This was such a deep concern for Google that they purchased the entire company Motorola, not for its hardware designs or for its long standing status as a technology giant but for its patent portfolio. While it does not really matter to the end user who owns Motorola, chances are many of us have not even purchased a Motorola mobile product in the last five years. Mobile products are not the only part of the technology sector where this type of issue has been brought into the public spot light. It happens more often than many would think.
It was not long ago when Sony was forced to launch its Play Station 3 game console without the rumble feature that was present in its previous generation hardware. This was due to a patent filed by a company known as Immersion. Immersion had filed suit against technology giants Sony and Microsoft over their filing for “Tactile feedback man-machine interface device”(Tremblay and Yim). Microsoft, wanting nothing to do with this type of litigation, promptly paid for the use of the technology and even invested directly into the company by purchasing ten percent of the total company’s assets. Sony on the other hand, chose to fight this which lead to the complete removal of the rumble feature from their product line. This dispute was later settled out of court and not long after the rumble feature was returned to the product line with much fanfare. (Reimer) This is a situation that stands out as a tangible example of runaway patent litigation hurting the consumer. Allowing companies to hold dominion over such basic concepts and then awarding them millions of dollars when something remotely close to the idea is developed goes against what the system was original created for and is exactly what Google will be lobbing congress to put a stop to.
It is impossible to say in this current political climate exactly which way the patent wars will go. America stands at a cross roads in terms of innovation. Unless sweeping changes are made we are going to continue to get inferior products that tip toe around their competitor’s offerings to avoid excessively costly court battles. These companies are wasting everyone’s time and the tax payer’s money endlessly challenging one another over their patent filings. Once the system is successfully reformed everyone all will benefit. The technology will finally be allowed to evolve in a positive way that can still be profitable to these companies. Until that day, we will continue to have our choices limited and our products watered down. Anyone who uses a cell phone, whether they be a technology enthusiast, or a parent picking up the phone to text their children when to be home for dinner we all must remember these products are something we use every day. We should demand that we get the most out of them regardless of who owns the idea on paper.
Ament, Phil. “U.S. Patent History – Creation of the U.S. Patent System.” U.S. Patent History Creation of the U.S. Patent System. N.p., 01 Mar. 2005. Web. 04 Dec. 2012.
Fingas, Jon. "USPTO Director David Kappos to Depart in January, Leave Mixed Record in Tech Patents." Engadget.com. N.p., 26 Nov. 2012. Web. 01 Dec. 2012.
Llamas, Ramon, Kevin Restivo, and Michael Shirer. "Android Marks Fourth Anniversary Since Launch with 75.0% Market Share in Third Quarter, According to IDC." IDC Analyze the Future. IDC Corporate USA, 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 1 Dec. 2012.
Mick, Jason. "Game Over? Apple's Bid to Kill HTC Nears Fruition as ITC Blocks Imports." Dailytech.com. N.p., 16 May 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.
Reimer, Jeremey. "Sony Settles Legal Rumble with Immersion." Ars Technica. Condé Nast, Mar.-Apr. 2007. Web. 1 Dec. 2012.
Tremblay, Mark R., and Mark H. Yim. Tactile Feedback Man-machine Interface Device. Virtual Technologies, Inc., assignee. Patent 6088017. Nov. 1995. Print.
Woodburn, David. “Google Inc. (GOOG) Exec: Patent Wars Hurt Consumers, Innovation” Insider Monkey. Web. 27 September. 2012.
Yarow, Jay. "It's Official: Apple Is Just A Niche Player In Smartphones Now." Business Insider. The Business Insider, 2 Nov. 2012. Web. 1 Dec. 2012.
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