Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th Oct 2012 09:24 UTC
Legal The failing US patent system is getting ever more mainstream - The New York Times is running a long and details piece on the failings of the system, especially in relation to the technology industry most of us hold so dearly. Most of the stuff in there isn't new to us - but there's two things in the article I want to highlight.
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Tony Swash
Member since:
2009-08-22

Based on the interesting and thoughtful comments here it is clear that patent reform is not easy, and there are lots of ways to go about it and lots of opinions about how it should be done. The really contentious area is software patents, and it looks like the suggested ways to reform those (essentially that boils down their abolition) may open up new problems particularly for those with an investment in creation of software. It is likely that any reform of patents, and of software patents in particular (as the suggestion is for the most radical change in that area), may well open up new sorts of problems and will almost certainly be very contentious.

All of the above is not meant to argue against reform but simply to sketch out why it is so tricky and why in a realpolitik process, legislators my just choose to kick the can along the road.

I would repeat my point that in any given field IP legal activity tends to come in waves, usually associated with particularly disruptive technical change, and then to subside. Currently such a wave is affecting technologies, products and companies that interest people in forums such as this but tomorrow it could be in an entirely different field. Does anybody remember the bitter IP wars around photocopying technology?

I think in a world and in markets where a couple of years of technical advantage can mean the difference between success and failure it is understandable that companies that introduce what they consider to be particularly innovative and disruptive products will seek to protect them with legally enforceable IP rights. It is also inevitable that other companies will seek to outflank and render useless that IP protection and will almost certainly always win in the long run.


I don't want to open a can of worms by defending Apple but I do think that they are realistic about what they can achieve in the realm of IP protection and what they want is for other companies to be deterred from automatically and immediately lavishly copying Apple's every move and every product. To some extent Samsung has pulled back from doing that lately but for while they really were blatant about shadowing Apple's every move. Whose to blame them as it it resulted in pretty much Android's only money making success. And whose to blame Apple for trying to stop them? In the long run if Apple aspires successfully to be a leader in product design it has to accept that eventually others will emulate their approach and emulate the various designs they produce. That's what happens to cutting edge design, it sets trends in motion. But I think it is good to have a system that makes sure that that doesn't happen the next day, or in a an utterly blatant fashion (like sticking iTunes and Safari icons on the walls of Samsung's retail stores - Samsung actually did that).

Personally I wish they the IP wars could die away and that innovation could be more widespread in the industry. I am also hoping for a white Christmas ;)

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