The beginning of the end for patents?

By August 22, 2012Innovation

As we come to the end of the Apple vs Samsung patent battle I’m starting to hope that we might be nearing the beginning of the end for patents. I’ve written before that software patents are actually a brake on innovation rather than an enabler so I won’t repeat the arguments again.

I will note, however, that the closing arguments in the Apple vs Samsung case are evidence of a system gone nuts. The fact that the lawyers there are making the case about the patent system overall rather than specifics about ideas stolen or damages suggests to me that Apple sees patents as a tool in its competitive armoury, rather than anything more important or fundamental. After all, it is not as if Samsung’s success has stopped Apple being successful, or that they are likely to stop investing in innovation going forward because they had a bad experience with the iPhone. Additionally, there is too much complexity and breadth in the case to realistically expect the jury to come to a meaningful conclusion.

The good news is that Google is now coming out publicly against patents and is mobilising it’s powerful lobbying machine to see if something can be done. Kind of ironic given they paid $12bn for Motorola Mobility last year in a deal largely driven by their desire to own Motorola’s patent portfolio, but welcome none-the-less. Yesterday Venturebeat reported the following:

“One thing that we are very seriously taking a look at is the question of software patents and whether, in fact, the patent system as it currently exists is the right system to incent innovation,” said Google public policy director Pablo Chavez at a conference in Mountain View, Calif, today.

and

Google is busy on the long, boring trail to changing patent law by filing amicus briefs, advocating for reforms, and teaming up with other antipatent players in the tech industry.

Hopefully Google’s action combined with the absurdity of the current Apple vs Samsung proceedings will convince someone in Washington to adopt the anti-patent cause. I don’t expect anything to happen quickly though.