I’ve been thinking for a while now about why the recent patent verdict in favor of Apple irritates me so much. It’s not that I don’t think intellectual property should be protected, because I think it should. It’s not that I don’t think Apple should not be able to profit from the things it invents, because I think it should. It’s not even that I don’t think Samsung used technology Apple patented, because I think it did.
No, it’s none of those things.
Instead, it’s that Apple has decided that the drive for profit is an excuse to use its patents and the US courts to destroy its opponents. What Apple–and Oracle and Sun and Microsoft and Google and others–want to do is to create fiat monopolies using laws designed to protect innovators to prevent others from further innovation based on their ideas.
For example, in the Apple case, the phones Apple wants banned from sale in the US represent a tiny fraction of overall smartphone sales and some models are no longer even sold it the US. What Apple really wanted was the billion dollar settlement–it asked for $2.5 billion in damages–so as to wound Samsung’s ability to continue to do business.
By taking down competitors using patent lawsuits, Apple seeks to own all of the market share. Apple doesn’t want competitors and seems willing to do whatever it takes to destroy them.
What makes this desired destruction so egregious is that most of the patents Apple sought to enforce cover technology and ideas Apple didn’t actually invent. It just patented them first. And now, it uses those patents as weapons.
What suffers from this onslaught is any kind of innovation. If Apple can own hand gestures and screen symbols–things that are essentially ideas, not technology–then how can anyone invent new ideas that will surely come from what Apple already owns without risking the bloody tip of Apple’s patent spear?
What this patent war ignores is that the history of human innovation is the history of sharing technology and ideas to make things better and to benefit everyone. If historical inventors had followed the same path Apple followed, the bow, the shoulder harness, concrete, the sail, and the car would have all been the proprietary property of their inventors and available only from them for exorbitant fees.
Historically, we humans realized this kind of idea was ludicrous. Up until the 18th century, when the rampant wealth of the industrial revolution drove us all mad, we forced the sharing of ideas, even going so far as to go to war to get them. Now, apparently, we’re willing to sit back and let the robber barons of the tech industry dictate to us, and we all suffer because of it.
If Apple wants to prove it does not intend what I suggest, then it can solve the problem in a simple way: open source all of its patents for non-commercial use. I will even grant that it has the right to collect fees if someone creates something new based on its patents, but it should not have the right to own ideas.
Apple, we’re waiting.