4th maj, 2011

Origin of Mobile lawsuits is Not Fear

A few days I read an article in my newspaper – Berlingske – by Poul Høi with the headline ”What are Apple and Microsoft afraid of?”. It is always nice to have newspapers discuss IP, but also a bit frustrating since they often get the story wrong and tend to be very one sided.

In the article Høi is asking why mobile companies are suing each other all the time at the moment (New York Times calls it an explosion)? The explanation Høi elaborates is fear and old paradigms from the industrial age. He is quoting a book by Steven Johnson “Where good ideas come from” saying that the future ideas and markets will not grow from a system of IP protection. I have blogged about Steven Johnsons theories before since he is a great speaker and cartoonist drawing fabulous stories about ideas and innovation. The mobile market is compared to legendary court battles of Kodak and Polaroid.
Where the article goes wrong is here: It doesn’t acknowledge that knowledge is a commodity to be traded and the currency is among other things IP.  I still strongly believe that IP is a good way of rewarding investments in innovation. I don’t think that Apple and Microsoft are afraid of HTC, I think that exploiting IP against competitors is the name of the game.
“But lawsuits don’t encourage innovation” you say “the money is better spent on development”. But in fact you are wrong. In itself a lawsuit will not bring any innovation, but the threat of being punished for copying other people’s innovation is good for innovation. There is no comparison of today’s mobile wars and the Kodak case. Back then the world was different. The speed of innovation has increased to light speed, the value of companies depend on their knowledge and their ability to make money from it. And therefore IP has moved up the ladder and is now among the most important tools for an innovative company.
However I’ll give Høi and others a point in this case. The explosion of lawsuits could be a symptom of a weakness in the patent system. As I have said countless times the American patent systems allowance of weak and flimsy patents on trivial advances could be the real issue here. If the mobile companies have racked up a pile of patents because it is so easy to get even the tiniest advance thru the system there is a problem. Therefore patent reform in the US needs all the support it can get.


The increasingly complex web that’s developed from all of the mobile patent enforcement actions is truly mind-boggling. What’s more, it all seems rather wasteful, when one considers the fact that the likely result of all these lawsuits will be settlements and cross-licensing deals.

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