Let me start off by saying that I am a huge technology buff. If it has buttons, I want to press them. If it has a better screen, I want to see it. If it is new and costs a premium to be the first one to own it, I’ll sell some blood to cover the cost of being an early adaptor.
Because of this interest, I like the patent system. If everyone simply followed the same formula, competitive products would become rote. New ways to do things is what promotes innovation, and I believe patents help to stimulate that. But with most everything that is good, it must come in moderation. This is where my interest in electronics and positive outlook of patents begin to diverge.
Patents are for new creations, even game changers. Nowadays, however, companies file patents like crazy and buy up companies that are worth little to no value simply for their stockpile of patents. It all adds up to, in the longterm, create an industry that takes something that helps stimulate innovations but instead uses it to slow it.
Bringing me to Apple, which just won a patent lawsuit against HTC over a feature that converts incoming messages into highlighted, underlined links for phone numbers, names, etc. Sure, this does perform a task, but to what degree should we assign it genuine, distinguishable, game-changing value? Take for instance the ability to cut and paste within a document. Yes, it also “does” something, but what if only one interface allowed cutting and pasting, and all others were blocked from using it? There are things that companies should protect vigorously. But there are also others, especially within the tech industry, that should be considered contributions to help move the industry forward.
My biggest problem is that these lawsuits can be counter productive. Look at lawsuits against surgeons and the effect it has on medical costs. Lawsuits are a drain, and often result in a negative outcome even if a lawsuit is successful. I think about this Apple win and ask myself, what could Apple have created if it put the costs associated with litigation (direct dollars, man hours, brainpower) towards new innovations. There is a cost-benefit for everything, and the cost associated with continual patent lawsuits just seems a bit greater.
Winner or loser, patent lawsuits do little to help a brand. If you ask an Apple customer why he or she chose an Apple product, I promise you the amount of times someone replies, “They have great patents,” would be nil. It is the same reason why generics exist but are not the market leaders, even though they share the exact same ingredients as their brand name counterparts.
So, to Apple I say, don’t waste time and resources trying to force competitors out of the market with patents. Do what you do best, and put it all into continually making great, simple, intuitive products and consumers will push out the competition for you.