Friday, August 24, 2012

Apple is, Apparently, an Island

Apple has won over a billion dollars in damages. Not one of their patents was anything but the shape and user interface features on their phones and tablets. After decades of corporate PR convincing us that these companies can own vague shapes and ideas, that elements of a product are property unto themselves has taken its toll. We have been convinced that Apple is a poor little soul and big mean Samsung ruthlessly stole from them. Things like rounded corners and flat faceplates and bouncy icons and user gestures allowed Apple to claim over a billion dollars from a legitimate competitor. No technological components were stolen, no unique ideas copied. There were no fake iPhones were sold, and no one on earth confused the Samsung phones for iPhones. At no point did Apple lose money to Samsung in any way other than by Samsung selling a competing phone.

But this is the same culture where you own every song and sentence you write for 70 years after you die. This is the culture where you can patent obvious features in software like search bars and object coding. This is the culture where millions of iPhone owners cry out in joy that a company they don't buy products from is being punished for selling competing products, where they fight in forums and with friends with claims that Apple invented touch screens and phones and computers and sex.

This is the culture where an entire political party refuses to admit cooperation helped them be successful. We are officially an Objectivist culture, having convinced ourselves all success, all ideas have no precedence and are by right one person's forever.

Logic Priest


Apparently I am not the only one suspicious of a jury getting through the pages of instructions and 700 questions and it appears my initial assessment that it was purely cultural was right. Lawyers over at Groklaw combined with strange interviews with the jurors have made it seem like the jury decided before and without the benefit of the instructions. They decided that because Samsung compared their products, was an Asian company and had not been "first" they must have copied and were deserving of punishment. Since patent law is not about punishment but compensation for theoretically lost business, this is already a break with the legal bindings on the jury. The fact that the foreman admits basically leading the jury around actually following instructions and another juror admits they had made up their minds on day one, despite evidence offered afterwards, the case looks weaker and weaker. Appeal is very likely now.

It just goes back to my claims above. Americans have become convinced by lobbyists and PR campaigns that you can own a vague idea and form. The jury ignored the Samsung patents and let this ridiculous idea of "stealing", combined with a healthy dose of racism taint their decision. They decided bouncy screens and jiggling icons are the property of the American company and that the Asian company just stole it and deserves to be punished for that. Copyright may be corrupt enough to allow such strange ideas of property and punitive damages, but patent law isn't, yet. As broken as patent law is, punitive damage and form are not part of it. Hopefully the appeals court will help cement the idea that you cannot patent basic functions, but only methods and inventions to do said functions.

Maybe, just maybe patent law can get the reforms it needs. Shorter terms, stricter requirements to start with.

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