I had a couple interesting patent conversations today, both completely unrelated, but both offering me some insights into this Nokia patent fight with Apple. Neither of my conversations were particularly focused on this new suit and complaint filing with the USITC, but I thought I’d pass on some of the thoughts because there’s some valuable insights into this whole Nokia Vs. Apple Inc patent complaint.
For those of you who aren’t in the know about what’s been going on, the Finnish telecommunications Nokia has petitioned the USITC to look into the allegations that Apple is infringing on a host of their patents. It started with a couple of patents, or more specifically 10 patents related to wireless data, speech coding, security and encryption. Nokia then petitioned the US District Court to put an injunction on the sales of iPhones because the device included patent infringing technologies. Then Apple Inc. provided a rebuttal and submitted a claim that Nokia is infringing on 13 of their patents. Now we’re seeing a USITC complaint from Nokia against Apple Inc.
The patent system is broken
The race for patents is so accelerated that firms and companies, whether it be technology related firms or universities, are trying to patent the most cryptic information they can, hoping that it might be useful at some point in the future. They’re trying to patent ideas as soon as they can, in a hope to protect their assets and reap royalty-like benefits.
While the logic of this is surely a pretty sound risk-reward scenario, there comes a point where it becomes detrimental to the actual evolution of science. Intellectual property (IP) rights need a reworking and this Nokia lawsuit is a prime example of this problem. When we have a couple of firms who both seem to be using similar technologies in their devices, some quickly jump on the information theft bandwagon, but few realize that it’s just as likely that some of these firms developed these technologies in parallel. I’m pretty far away from being anything remotely resembling an IP professional, but it doesn’t necessarily take a rocket scientist to realize that parallel discovers are a huge problem with patent filings.
Someone once said to me (unfortunately I can’t remember who), “unique ideas don’t stay unique for long. It’s only a matter of time until someone else comes up with your idea and does something about it”. It’s a pretty noble insight, and I wish I could remember who said it to me. I think we need to take it into consideration when we talk about patents.
For the record here, I’m not acting as an apologist for Apple Inc., but I am questioning the validity of patent infringement lawsuits as a whole. The system is so mucked up with vague patents that we can’t even begin to understand exactly what is being patented these days. Corporations want to protect their assets and Research & Development sectors by leaving out details on their patent filings, and being purposefully vague on their submission requests. In my opinion if you can’t tell me what your patent is really for you shouldn’t be issued a patent.
As a consumer, we should be thinking about what patents are doing for real innovation in the tech sector. How many times in the past, and how many times in the near future will huge technological break throughs be stymied because of a vague patent filing? It’s pretty scary when you think about it.