Patent Wars: An Ode to Vindictiveness

12 Jul

Humans have a fairly long history of doing each other in for less than good reasons, both large and small scale. (Robots are certainly not guiltless in this regard;  the Captcha Scandal,  for example.) But one of the most petty and bizarre ways that protohumans, as I have suddenly decided to call them, got up in each others’ business and fucked shit up was through a process called “Patent Wars.”

Cats fighting like noobs

Visual approximation of the conflict

Patents were the somewhat logical but mostly terrible system of ownership used until 2073 that humans used to make sure that if someone had a good idea, they could make a living off of it. Basically, some dude would invent a thing, then get the government to say that he was the only one allowed to make that thing. Now, I know that’s pretty WTF, but bear with me. When the system was first formed it wasn’t such an awful idea, and don’t worry, I won’t bore you with all the history, but suffice to say that when most of the things being patented were things the system more or less worked. Although you can’t stop corruption and schemers and corrupt schemers from nabbing other peoples work some of the time. Not even in our day and age.
The trouble really came when patents started applying to something called “intellectual property,” and today’s blast from the past is a fabulous example of how the system got so snarled that industry leading  companies took it as a given that they would be suing and being sued by several of their competitors at once, all the time.

The players in today’s drama are extinct giants Apple and Samsung. Apple is claiming that Samsung has done them damage because several features of their smartphones are quite similar to those of Apple’s smartphones. Before you roll your eyes/giz your widgets, it gets sillier. Apple claims that by copying them,  Samsung has overtaken them in the smartphone market and taken a nasty bite out of their profits. Wait, you say, Apple is pissed that someone is competing with them? Isn’t that how business works? Yes. Yes it is, and that is what Samsung said, too. But don’t get too excited for Samsung yet, there are no good guys in patent wars. Check out this adorable old infovid that does a pretty good job of explaining how fragged out the whole system was.
It’s not all bad news though, at least not for us in the comfortably distant future. These egregious shenanigans were a large part of the reason that the patent system was finally scrapped all together. If people had been reasonable about their “intellectual property” then that out moded system would probably have taken much longer to die, even after the Unified Internet made True Attribution a given.
If you’re interested in reading more, no need to slog through the archives. I’ve done it for you:

Wall Street Journal- Patent Trial of the Century

Reuters- Billions of Dollars of Damage