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Patents The Almighty Buck The Courts Apple

Are Patent Wars Worth the Price Tag? 128

ericjones12398 writes "It's beginning to feel like a TV series, a weekly patent war drama. Apple and Samsung have consistently been going back and forth with claims of IP infringement, to the point where who is accusing who of what is exhausting to follow. The question I would like to ask and try to answer is what the opportunity costs are of pursuing litigation versus just toughing it out? Would it be more economic for both companies to live and let live, or is there value to be captured in legal finger pointing? My best guess would be that this isn't about stopping sales this quarter or next, nor is it about defending the small-scale tech features that merely mildly differentiate. It's instead about momentum and branding. Winning these cases is PR that says, we are the leaders in smartphone technology, we are the innovators."
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Are Patent Wars Worth the Price Tag?

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  • I despise patents (Score:5, Interesting)

    by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) on Monday June 25, 2012 @04:16PM (#40443623)

    I am convinced that at least 99% of patents are useless. They are trivial expansions on previous patents, maybe changing the temperature of an annealing, maybe adding .01% more chromium, or changing the angle of a gear surface by a degree. Software patents are far worse them mechanical patents, and I have not heard of a single one that is not obvious to someone skilled in the arts.

    If those companies spent half on research what they spend on patent lawyers, they'd beat the competition in products and build up their internal skills to keep their edge.

    Patents are the first refuge of the unskilled.

  • Re:I despise patents (Score:5, Interesting)

    by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) on Monday June 25, 2012 @04:38PM (#40443965)

    Yes I do. Intellectual property is no more property than vibrations in air.

    The idea that someone can write a song and retire and the grandkids can probably retire at birth too is disgusting. Whereas I write a program and have a job. Did K&R retire from writing C? No, it just gave them the reputation to get further work. That's all anyone should get.

    I have a neighbor whose father wrote some famous songs, and now he spends half his time ferreting out bands who don't pay the proper respect. Nice for him, does nothing for productivity or creating new works or making anyone, including him, any happier.

  • by __aaeihw9960 ( 2531696 ) on Monday June 25, 2012 @04:45PM (#40444077)

    We're moving in to milk it dry, wait for the infrastructure to rot out, and then move on like locusts to another country we can develop, exploit, and then impoverish.

    It's called shock economics - was popular in the 80's and 90's on the international scene (I think they re-branded it and call it austerity now). It is a theory based on breaking unions, abolishing the middle class, privatizing everything in the interests of global companies, and creating two distinct classes of folks - rich and poor. Many of it's proponents and architects came from the University of Chicago. . . . And it seems that they've turned their sights on our country in the last ten years.

    There's a book out called the Shock Doctrine - it's about the IMF's and US's involvement in South America, Europe and the Middle East, and our policy of shocking an economy back to health. It's older at this point, but it's main ideas are still relevant, and startlingly similar to what we have going on in places like Greece, and the early stages of what's happening here in the US. Privatize (for a profit for my buddies), because private industry does it soooo much better. What's that? Health care - NOPE. Living wage? NOPE. Suck on that po' folks. But I digress. It's a good book, and is just the start of the rabbit hole.

  • Re:I despise patents (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Monday June 25, 2012 @04:49PM (#40444131) Journal
    There, there. I agree that intellectual property ha been completely subverted. I agree that software patents should be outlawed, that the copyrightableness of code should be carefully examined, and the copyrightableness of binaries also. However, there are indeed domains where a period of exclusive commercial exploitation makes sense. Drug research, movie production.

    I like the position of the pirate party : copyrights should be a lot shorter (~10 years) and non-commercial sharing should be allowed. It is, however, productive to propose a period of commercial exclusivity.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 25, 2012 @04:54PM (#40444215)

    You are correct in that this is the theory behind why the US has patents.

    You are incorrect in the practice. Anything truly worthy of becoming a patent most often is instead treated as a closely guarded business secret; both for international competition among whack-a-mole importers and the hope that they can keep the secret longer than 20 years.

    I am convinced that we would all be better off with /copyright/ having a term much more like patents (if you haven't made your money back within 10 years you'll have starved anyway) and patents simply not existing. Please cover Mickey Mouse type stuff via trademark (a consumer protection tool is where brand reccognition belongs).

  • Re:Shoot a lawyer... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by reebmmm ( 939463 ) on Monday June 25, 2012 @04:56PM (#40444237)

    This is more about the legal department making decisions

    This is usually very much NOT the case. Legal departments in major corporations don't usually make these sorts of decisions. Or, when they do make the decisions, they're usually very conscious of the fact that lawsuits (and legal fees generally) are not viewed as revenue centers, but cost centers. Wins in any litigation are usually windfalls, not strategic investments.

    There are exceptions, of course. Companies do exist with litigation as their business model. However, you might be surprised about how much strategic planning goes into that as well.

    Are they going to decide "Let's not do any litigation!"? Of course not. They will always pick a choice that keeps them employed.

    In-house lawyers don't view litigation as job security. Few companies staff litigation lawyers. That work is almost always moved to outside counsel. Those with litigators on staff don't usually do patent litigation. Litigation tends to detract from scarce corporate resources for legal services that are usually necessary to keep a business running.

    For most companies, in-house counsel are concerned more about avoiding litigation and the expense of that litigation than they are with prolonging that litigation.

    All of that said, it may come as a surprise to you that BUSINESS teams are usually more litigation happy than the lawyers especially if they see a competitive reason. In fact, at Apple, Steve Jobs famously said that he's willing to go "to thermonuclear war" with Google over Android: []

    In addition, business teams tend to be less calculating about their litigation risks than the lawyers they have on staff.

  • Prisoner's Dilemma (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Patch86 ( 1465427 ) on Monday June 25, 2012 @05:35PM (#40444821)

    In many ways, patent wars resemble a version of the Prisoner's Dilemma.

    If both companies sue each other for patent infringement, they both lose. If neither company sued the other, they would have a pleasant status quo. But if just one company sued the other, they would win big.

    Although both players know that they'd be better off if they didn't play, it is literally a logical certainty that they have to sue each other.

    I'm not sure how "make a cross licensing agreement and move on" fits into a classic Prisoner's Dilemma, but why let real life complications get in the way of a good philosophy metaphor.

  • Re:I despise patents (Score:4, Interesting)

    by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) on Monday June 25, 2012 @11:07PM (#40448235)

    So if a programmer writes code that you like in your phone, should you pay every time you use it?

    If an ironworker installs an elevator, does everyone who rides it pay a fee, inclduing for 75 years after his death?

    If you take a trip on the subway, does the driver get paid for that trip until he dies, and his children and grandchildren collect royalties for 75 years more?

    If you have a really good juicy apple some day, should the farmer who grew it collect royalties for the rest of his life, and his children for 75 years after?

    Fuck you. Everyone is people too, and enrich your life far more than songs. They also have families and bills to pay. Unlike songwriters, they don't expect to collect royalties for every use, or for their descendants to keep collecting said royalties for 75 years after they die.

"You must have an IQ of at least half a million." -- Popeye