- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A jury on Saturday decided electronics giant Samsung must cut a $1 billion check to Apple over an ongoing patent dispute. The jurors agreed Samsung’s Galaxy line of phones are knock-offs of Apple’s popular iPhone. Should this massive judgment stand, consumers will end up paying more and innovation will suffer.

With victory in hand, Apple’s lawyers turned up the heat Monday by petitioning the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to pull eight older Samsung phone models off the shelf. Apple will also continue efforts to add Samsung’s brand-new Galaxy S3 to the list of forbidden phones. The S3 has sold 10 million units so eliminating this major competitor would likely result in more sales of the iPhone.

In a nutshell, Apple’s complaint is that Samsung products mimic the distinctive look and feel of an iPhone. Apple, for example, has a trademark on the use of a green button with the silhouette of a phone handset as the icon for making a telephone call. Samsung used an undeniably similar icon, but this trivial bit of imitation hardly rises to the level of a federal case. Reading Apple’s complaint, it would be easy to believe the Cupertino, Calif., firm’s 2007 introduction of the iPhone constituted the invention of the smartphone itself.

In truth, IBM had them beat by 13 years with the Simon PDA, a brick-sized phone with built-in paging, email and calendar capabilities. Over time, companies like Palm, Nokia and Research in Motion came out with devices that built on the concept, adding more features. Samsung has always been in the ring and can claim a number of innovations, including the creation in 2000 of the first cellphone that doubles as a music player — a feature many people identify with the iPhone. Thus, Apple’s product was not revolutionary; it was a singularly brilliant evolution of what came before.

Apple’s late co-founder, Steve Jobs, explained the company’s philosophy in a famous 1994 interview. “Picasso had a saying: ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal,” said Jobs. “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” The world is a better place because of it.

America’s Founders recognized the need for ideas to build upon one another, only granting limited patent rights “to promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts.” As Thomas Jefferson explained in an 1813 letter, “The exclusive right to invention [is] given not of natural right, but for the benefit of society.”

The current patent system has moved far beyond the original, constitutional purpose by granting exclusive rights to the most obvious and trivial of ideas. Instead of promoting innovation, this encourages tedious and expensive litigation. Banning products tells entrepreneurs that it’s more important to have a good team of lawyers than to develop devices the public wants to buy. An overhaul of the patent system is long overdue and would be to the benefit of society.

The Washington Times

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