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11:37 pm: AvS
Ignoring the issue of the morality or utility of software and design patents (I don't much like them, professionally or ideologically), isn't there a deep malaise in a legal system where big companies sue each other so much?


The point of having codified laws and writing all these patents down clearly and getting an office to approve them is so that it should then be obvious to all parties involved what actions are prohibited and what aren't. There will always be some fuzziness over shades of meaning or edge cases that weren't thought of, or genuine disagreements about meaning. And there will always be people dishonestly trying it on, and having to be squashed legally.


But this big patent apocalypse that's going on, isn't it completely unprecedented for as many big companies in an industry to be suing each other? Neither Samsung nor Apple are at SCO Group levels of unreasonableness - they're sensible people, and for them to be contesting this means their lawyers reckon they've got a chance. Which means that these state-granted monopolies on products that are becoming increasingly important in the world economy really are that ambiguous. And it's not just Apple vs Samsung - how many tech companies are suing each other right now in patent suits? How many are about to? If there were this many disputes about real property rights, then the law would be clarified pretty damn clearly, either by statute, or by a precedent. But here there's no commonality. "infringing" has to be carefully evaluated for each individual claim. This could be perhaps managed when you had one or two or three patents per product, but it simply doesn't scale.


Computer-related patents were dysfunctional, I knew that, as they could be used for nefarious ends, and were often granted for ridiculously trivial things. But I see now they have failed to even be clear law. If Samsung's legal department can't tell whether they've trod on someone else's patents, what hope the independent developer?

Comments

From:thatmakesmemad
Date:August 27th, 2012 07:00 am (UTC)
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The patent war is Jobs true legacy.
There are independant developers on the app markets being hit by lawsuits they can't fight based on these tenuous claims.
Excuse me while I morn the passing of a great man who has been relegated to second league status because we live in a world that values toy makers who stab their best friend in the back for a few dollars more than those who reach for the stars.
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From:psych0naut
Date:August 27th, 2012 07:28 am (UTC)
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And it's not just Apple vs Samsung - how many tech companies are suing each other right now in patent suits?

I imagine you may already have seen this nifty graph showing who's suing whom over mobile patents. It might be somewhat outdated now but is still interesting.

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From:hairyears
Date:August 27th, 2012 09:10 am (UTC)
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The tech sector has partly - hopefully not completely - ceased to be about innovation, and shifted to rent-seeking.

That's end-of-empire stuff. In terms of individual companies, you can identify their shift from expansion to decline as the shift in emphasis from innovation - defended by patents - to a stagnation of ideas in which individual managers and the company as a whole devote their major efforts to defending their positions.

Patents are the most visible action but they are not the only rent-seeking or 'positional' tactic in play. Google 'How Microsoft lost its Mojo' for a microeconomic view of internal factors at work; and 'Abusive practices by Visa' for a view of a once-innovative company squeezing out innovative rivals to consolidate a monopoly - the macroeconomic apex of rent-seeking capitalism in a market that's unregulated but far from 'free'.


Another point to note: the threat of 'patent war' has always been there. But every innovative company knew that this was a threat of mutually-assured destruction, because they all held blocking patents on each other: the only way to win is not to play *that* game, and to pursue success by innovation.

I do not know what the future holds. A reform of legislation is required: but lobbying and legislative abuse are the very citadel of the successful rent-seeker.
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From:reddragdiva
Date:August 27th, 2012 11:46 am (UTC)
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Indeed. Silly Apple, patents are for big businesses to keep small businesses from competing! You don't actually use them. You stupid bastards.
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From:pjc50
Date:August 27th, 2012 01:09 pm (UTC)
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"isn't it completely unprecedented for as many big companies in an industry to be suing each other?"

Possible previous examples:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_brothers_patent_war
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Patents_Company

In both cases, only ended by government intervention. If you want a prediction, patent reform in the US will come only once there's a vital high-profile technology that's entirely foreign-owned (Chinese?).
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