Apr 04, 2012

Why has patent litigation become such an epidemic?

It seems like every day there is another lawsuit filed alleging patent infringement. Yahoo sues Facebook, Facebook sues Yahoo, Samsung sues Apple, Apple sues Samsung, and on and on. It isn't only in the US, it is around the world. Of course there have always been patent dispute, but it seems that the frequency and potential impact of the litigation has grown to a new level. It could affect users as well as the companies. For example, Samsung tried to get the courts to ban sales of the iPad or iPhone in the Netherlands. That didn't succeed, but it could have. Have tech companies become more litigious, or am I just noticing it more?

Money, money, money.

These lawsuits potentially involve vast sums of money and intellectual property rights. So you will see them continue. There's just too much cash on the line for companies to fail to defend their patents and intellectual property rights.

Plus there are tons of bloodsucking lawyers who are quite happy to take the millions in fees to represent these companies. Never underestimate the greed of lawyers.

When you look at the financial numbers involved, I think the motivation becomes clear.  If Samsung could have gotten Apple products banned from sale in the Netherlands, how many millions would that have been worth.  Or if a company succeeds in showing a competitor is using its patented technology in a product, it can demand a fee for every single example sold.  Think about getting a $15 payment for every iPhone sold - that would add up pretty quickly.  I think another problem is that little thing called independent invention.  Just like the development and design of bows and arrows was essentially mirrored all over the world despite physical isolation of human populations, it stand to reason that different companies whose employees often share educational background - Go Cardinal! - would sometimes determine similar solutions to similar problems.  All it takes then for litigation to start is for someone to say, "Hey, they stole our idea!" Sometimes, of course, that will actually be the case. To paraphrase Steve Jobs (who stole the phrase from Pablo Picasso); good programmers copy, great programmers steal.   

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