The Never Ending Patent Wars

The US Court of Appeals recently sided with Apple in arguing that the company is entitled to an injunction to stop Samsung from using features that infringe on Apple’s patents -- the latest installment in a multi-year patent war between Apple and Samsung.

There are essentially three main features at the heart of the case – hyperlinked phone numbers in emails and other messages, slide to unlock, and auto-correction for spelling mistakes. While the impact on Samsung moving forward is still unknown, the case raises the question of the boundary between patented technology and common practice/industry standard.

While yes, we should be focused on rewarding R&D and innovation and protecting intellectual property, at what stage does the above process actually stifle further growth and deter the development of new features and products? Rather than pouring money into new ideas, it seems that many of the country’s largest technology companies are spending more on litigation costs.

Is the slide to unlock feature really a breakthrough innovation on Apple’s part? It turns out that years before Apple even began selling the iPhone, a Swedish company called Neonode had already been selling a phone with a similar feature. In fact, Apple had to submit multiple applications, each with slightly different language, before it was finally granted a patent. Then, only four months after the patent was issued, Apple sued Samsung over the use of the feature. Something about this scenario doesn’t seem right.

US competitiveness and continued growth is contingent on the premise that it can innovate and build new products. If all we do is try to fight over what US Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sharon Prost calls, “minor features,” we are ultimately just engaged in a race to the bottom.