Apple v. Samsung: Why the patent war risks creating a tech monster

The big loser is… YOU

1979 sketch of the Digital Audio Player by British Investor Kane Kramer. Photo: Steve Nicholson

It took jurors three days to decide what an eight year old could have told you in seconds: Samsung copied Apple. Look at an iPhone, then look at a Galaxy. It’s obvious. But so what?

Though Apple was quick to describe the decision as a victory for its core values of “originality” and “innovation,” let’s remember some of the real values Apple is built upon. Steve Jobs, who once quoted (stole?) Picasso’s line about great artists stealing, was himself a wonderfully original thief. All of Apple’s innovations are slick remixes of pre-existing ideas, from the graphic user interface Jobs lifted from Xerox (which Bill Gates later copied from him) to the iPod, which Apple has acknowledged was basically invented by this British guy in 1979. Technology, like all of human culture, progresses bit by bit as we build on each other’s work. Patents are a regulatory system imposed on technology, intended to make sure that inventors get paid for inventing. But they didn’t work out for the British dude who invented the digital audio player, and they aren’t working now.

Patents have become mystical commodities, collected by massive tech firms as a means of taxing newcomers and keeping competitors in check. These so-called “patent wars” have become an arms race in which companies stockpile intellectual property claims in order to ward off litigation. Millions of dollars are paid for patents that a company may have no intention of using for anything but bluster. “Sue us,” the message goes, “and we’ll sue you.” Sometimes two opponents in an arms race can be so equally matched that nobody dares pull a trigger. Other times, things go nuclear, or “thermonuclear,” as Jobs described his coming war against Android, for daring to innovate upon his innovation. That’s what happened last week.

Make no mistake about it, Apple v. Samsung was actually Apple v. Android, and Android is the mobile operating system of the people. Google has done the world a service by releasing a free alternative to Apple’s proprietary iOs. Android is empowering millions with smartphone connectivity. Many of the people who use Android devices could never afford an iPhone. As Google and Apple compete to create the best mobile OS, building on each other’s innovations, the consumer benefits. It’s a far healthier form of competition than the stifling patent wars.

Apple’s patents claim ownership over finger gestures. Apple’s patents claim ownership over rounded rectangles. It’s silly, but it’s become common: Amazon famously claims a patent on buying things online with one click. In choosing to uphold these patents, in recognizing generic and obvious aspects of design as pieces of private property, U.S. courts are stifling innovation and quite possibly creating in Apple a tech monopoly that will make Microsoft look like the public library.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown




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Apple v. Samsung: Why the patent war risks creating a tech monster

  1. sorry but a samsung galaxy S 3 doesnt look anything like a Iphone. Aside from having a touch screen and camera the thing has a 4.9 inch screen and runs Android. It also uses completely different tech inside of it then the Iphone. The whole thing is just fraud.

  2. Apple didn’t steal from xerox.. they licensed the technology(which xerox got apple pre-ipo stock, and made a bundle off of), and they payed the staff under contract to do the work for Apple.

    Apple didn’t patent finger gestures(you can’t patent ideas) they patented how the underlying system to make finger gestures work (you can patent process).

    So much FUD in this article it feels like IBM, and Fox news had a baby.

    • Well stated. This article is simply a way to foster this growing anti-apple feeling that seems so pervasive of late. (The cynic and little paranoid voices inside me are saying is being fanned by Google and Samsung.) Though as Mencken says: “Never ascribe to conspiracy, that which can be explained by stupidity.”
      You can, in fact, patent the technology used to make the gestures work, and this was the crux of the matter. Anyone who followed the trial would know this and to oversimplify the patent arguments is simply disingenuous.
      Further, to claim that Google is offering any innovation is nonsense. During the development of the iOS, the Google CEO was sitting on the Apple board without mentioning that they were working on the same thing. Suing Google would be a waste of time as Google can claim they are not “profiting” from their OS and are simply altruistic.
      Without the iPhone, we’d all be pressing buttons and happy that we could get e-mails, let alone the magic that the iPhone introduced.
      No one suggests that only Apple can come up with innovation, but must everyone come up with a poor copy?

    • This is funny. The monster that Apple created is Samsung. Before iPhone samsung was a bit player in mobile. Now the y have swallowed up all the other players — who believe in innovation and R&D. Samsung sells an iPhone Copy at every price point.

  3. Poor judgement

  4. Apple angst is building and building. I know they’re nice and they work great and a lot of people feel they more than get their money’s worth, at least for now – I dunno, maybe its just fashion / snob appeal. But it is becoming more and more obvious to many that Apple wants to milk the market for everything its worth while they can with a max price strategy. I’ll never, ever do business with a company that is so obviously working hard to screw me over for every cent they can squeeze out of me using every hypocritical dirty trick in the book to do it.

    • Yes! I would rather live with reduced functionality than pay exorbitant corporate tax on my purchases.

  5. Is the old palm allowed to sue because touch screen, icons, media player, email, web browser, etc?

  6. Apple copied many gestures from paper backs. How are they an invention?

  7. I am done with Apple devices and software at this point. Apple has gone insane.

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