Patent Craziness

While perusing IT related blogs and articles online I stumbled upon the “Tech’s Biggest Flops of 2012 (So far)” slideshow. While most of it was predictable, slide 15 introduced a startling fact, that while we all know it, is staggering.

All the big tech guns are suing all the other big tech guns. But did you know that in total they are fighting over a massive 8,232,526 patents? That’s according to PCWorld who created the slideshow. Another illustration is this infographic from visua.ly. How can you look at that and not think this is all crazy?

I’m not saying companies shouldn’t protect their intellectual property. They should, but this much litigation looks more like power struggles, leveraging and manipulation. The market is extremely competitive and consumers are finicky. Companies are using every means necessary to hold on to their edge, even if it means crippling another company.

Take Apple’s fight against Motorola. Apple is seeking injunctions against Motorola selling its Android devices everywhere they can. Just this week Judge Posner heard both Motorola and Apple discuss their case why injunctions are appropriate. From the reports he wasn’t too pleased with either company, though he didn’t give away any hints which way he’d rule. Back in March, Apple successfully got an injunction against Motorola Android products in Germany, but also received an injunction against its iCloud and MobileMe push email.

These are just a couple of current high profile examples. How is anyone supposed to conduct business like this? We all know lawyers are expensive, and that the cost of these patent wars are being passed down to consumers. Not just in the prices of the devices but also in our freedom of choice. Once, a long time ago, a monopoly was considered a bad thing. In today’s tech world the traditional monopoly may not exist but it might be fair to say that Apple has an “effective” monopoly on the tablet market (currently). If they win all their injunctions they just might have an actual monopoly as well.

Patent reform is on the way, and it might make some difference in how this plays out in the future. But according to the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, David Kappos, this is all just a sign of “robust innovation”. He said that while testifying in front of congress on the current progress of the reform bill. There’s always a little crazy in innovation, but this amount of litigation is just plain crazy. Innovation be damned.