The headline in the New York Times brought what I had thought would be unambiguous good news or at the very least non-news to most people. A San Jose jury had found in favor of Apple in a patent infringement case against Samsung and awarded Apple one billion dollars in compensation. The suit involved infringement on patents for the iPhone and iPad.
But of course there was diverse opinion over the verdict. Much of the commentary in the Times was of this variety:
“This is an overreach of the patent law. If the first carmaker (Daimler) would have patented this new type of vehicle, there might never have been an American (sic) car industry. Apple ends up looking bad in the end, since it’s obvious that they are trying to stifle a competitor that is starting to get better at doing something Apple did first.
But I disagree. In that vein, did you know that the Wright Brothers patented the airplane? It’s U.S. patent No. 821,393 in case you are curious. You can look it up. That patent didn’t seem to slow down the evolution of the aviation industry.
I don’t usually comment on stuff like this but I feel compelled to because what passes for logic in this case is terrible. Much of the commentary is a misguided attempt the re-examine the patent process. The commentators disagree about whether this or that feature should be patented or patentable but that train left Dodge a long time before trial. They also engage in retrograde thinking, by essentially saying that the patent is obvious today so why was it needed in the first place? But the ideas that go into patents are rarely obvious at the time of invention and patents are awarded to protect an innovation by giving its authors time to profit from their invention. Without patents would we still bother to invest billions in R&D not to mention the time and effort to invent things?
The patents were awarded fair and square regardless of what anyone thinks now. The only question before the court was whether or not Samsung illegally copied a feature or function for which Apple had won a patent. The answer was a resounding yes. Yes, Samsung deliberately and knowingly broke the law by using someone else’s property without paying for it.
The issue was never about how deserving Apple or anyone else is or was of receiving a patent. It wasn’t even about Apple using its great wealth to prosecute an even wealthier corporation.
When did we as a people become so illogical?