I feel like I can’t go two days anymore without reading another story about an Apple lawsuit over an obscure patent. If it’s not Apple getting the Galaxy Tab 10.1 banned in Germany, it’s Samsung filing a lawsuit against Apple in Korea over “data, user interface, and short text message” patents, or HTC losing a patent battle with, you guessed it, Apple. The tech industry, once a proud symbol of innovation, is now nothing more than a corporate pissing contest over who owns the most patents.
Wanna make a touchscreen smart phone? Great! Now, before you get ahead of yourself and hire all of the engineers, coders, and UI developers, do yourself a favor and invest in some lawyers. You’re going to need them to sift through the thousands of mobile communications patents so they can tell you who you’re going to owe a whole boatload of licensing money. That’s right, not only do you have to design and build the phone, you have to pay Apple if you want to have something as basic as pinch to zoom.
Oh, you don’t feel like ponying up the money for something as simple as that? Well watch the hell out, because Apple has a massive legal team, enough money to outlast almost anyone else in a drawn out court case, and plenty of interface patents on fundamental touch screen gestures. Samsung may own about 11,000 more patents than Apple, but the little start up from Cupertino is by far the biggest bully in the tech world. Not only were they the first to the touchscreen phone and tablet parties, they also want to be the only one not passed out at the end of the night.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the need to protect your intellectual property, but it’s hard to take Apple seriously in all of this when they patent a part of their interface like slide to unlock, and then steal the notification shade from Android. Keep in mind, this a company so obsessed with protecting their own ideas that they sued HTC for the way their phones parse data in blocks of text to make phone numbers and email addresses clickable. You would think a company like that wouldn’t blatantly lift an entire piece of their main competitor’s interface. I guess Google should’ve locked that down when they had the chance.
Apple’s message in all of this loud and clear: if you want to try to compete with them, you better be ready for a war on all fronts. Not only will they use their patents to protect their own innovations, they’re also more than happy to toss them out as legal road blocks for anyone who tries to take a piece of their market share.
Now, I don’t want you to think that all of this is bleak and depressing. If you dig through all of the patent trolling and corporate grudges, you can find some hilarious little gems like this one: Samsung, with whom Apple is locked in an epic worldwide legal battle, is the same company that makes the iPad’s screen and processor. Let me say that again: SAMSUNG MAKES THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT PIECES OF THE IPAD. They do all of the work manufacturing that “Resolutionary” screen that makes the iPad so lust-worthy, and in return Apple sues them because they make a product too similar to theirs. M. Night Shyamalan only wishes he could come up with a twist as good as that.
You would think that by now we’d have a better system for protecting your own interests while continuing to foster competition and innovation. Who knows, maybe this is the best we can do. Maybe the money each side makes because of the other outweighs the legal fees they waste stabbing each other in the back. Maybe this whole ludicrous system just isn’t supposed to make sense. Maybe I’m just an idiot for expecting it to. Now that I think of it, that’s probably it.