Obviously the most talked about news this weekend is the whopping award of $1B to Apple in the case of patent infringement against Samsung by a jury of 9 experts in San Jose.
Personally, I have been trying hard to form my opinion on whether this is a justified award cutting out all the chatter on the Internet – bordering either on extreme righteous indignation or on conspiratorial speculations of the future.
One should not get me wrong… it is not that I feel that Samsung should not pay up to the originator of the idea if they have used them. I am a user of Apple products and don’t see why Samsung shouldn’t pay up to Apple when I, as an individual, pay too for using the products.
I am no expert on Patent Laws nor have I gone through the details of the infringed claims and I am basing this post based on what I have read in news reports about the case and the Award in the media. Yet, there are a few things about the whole issue that bothers me…
The first of these pertain to the reported infringement of ideas around touch-screen actions that are based on gestures used to zoom-in / zoom-out, tap zoom etc. – see image on right describing the action that has to be performed on a 2-Dimensional tablet.
This idea of zooming in and out in this fashion can be seen to be based on the slider based zooming support that we see in most computer systems / devices. Samsung could implement a simple slider interface like that shown here if they have to stop using the pinching gesture because of the jury verdict.
Of course, they could go on to implement a knob turning gesture – clockwise and anticlockwise movements of one finger about another seemingly stationary finger or a visible wheel in some corner of the screen that can be moved clockwise or anticlockwise with one finger (see figure).
BUT THIS IS ALSO PATENTED BY APPLE!
My concern about these being treated as patentable ideas of a corporation comes from these facts that certain generic actions of human beings – used for interacting with machines since Industrial Revolution – are being declared as the property of an individual organization and patents are being awarded. In my opinion, this will make it impossible for competitor’s to provide any natural human interface for their products. This brings me to the next point…
A game of Monopoly
While the award was given in favour of Apple, a counter-claim by Samsung on Apple having used their advanced UMTS (3G) techniques has been dismissed in the grounds that it is monopolistic to allow that claim. This is based on some of the reports that I had read.
UMTS is a technology. It takes a great deal of cost and effort to come up with a technology solution. How come monopoly restriction is applicable to a technology solution while it is not applicable to something as common as a human interface to machines? Someone please help me by commenting on this – I seem to be missing something here!
How is a patent recognized?
Please note that I am not alluding bias on the part of the jury. We have no inputs to believe that there could be anything wrong with the jury. That seems to happen only in my country :). We are more “democratic” and less “patriotic” – our media would have done a thorough investigation on the jury members, their families and their business interests by now :).
However, I would like to understand on what basis these patents are being allowed. It is universally recognized that not having a prior-art is not the only criteria and that if something is prevalent practice, the same should not be allowed to be patented. How is prevalence of a practice being ascertained? This can be serious – especially if you consider the fact that in every country, a vast majority of the people lead an insular life without knowing about people or cultures outside the region (except their eccentricities which are reported as titbits).
How is a patent valued?
The last concern of mine is about the fair market estimate of a patent. What is a fair market estimate? Is the $1B award justified – which could apparently be taken up 3-times because the jury has found out that Samsung has wilfully infringed?
I feel that the value is not something that can be estimated post-facto on the basis of sales for their respective products that use a patent. I feel that there should be a patent-exchange in which trading with patents could be allowed. In fact, a patent not listed in any exchange should be treated as a monopolistic behaviour because the inventor is trying to hold on to the idea. Would this work or throw up another problem?