Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
If ever you needed an illustration of the absurdity of the U.S. patent system, just check out the four things Apple just sued Samsung for.They’re all smartphone-related.
Samsung has just come out with a phone called the “Galaxy Nexus” that some people think is better than the iPhone.
And Apple is claiming that the Galaxy Nexus not only poses a huge threat to Apple but ripped off several patented aspects of the iPhone. So Apple is demanding a “preliminary injunction” to stop Samsung from selling the phone.
(It won’t get one, but when you have unlimited millions to pay lawyers to harass competitors, you might as well ask for the kitchen sink.)
Anyway, per Ian Sherr and Jessica Vascellaro in the WSJ, here are the things Apple says Samsung ripped off:
- The “slide-to-unlock” feature in which you unlock your touch-screen phone by sliding your finger across the screen.
- Searching multiple sources of information at once, which is something that Apple’s Siri gimmick does when it’s trying to provide information to you
- Detecting phone numbers in emails so you can just tap the number to call someone (a highly useful feature).
- A built-in spell-check that suggests alternatives when you misspell something.
Now, did Samsung rip these features off?
Assuming Apple was the first to use them in a smartphone, almost certainly. (The search-multiple-sources and auto-suggest have obviously been used on the web and in word-processing programs for years, but perhaps our patent system is ridiculous enough to confine a patent to mobile use. The slide-to-unlock and auto-detect features may be new).
Competitors rip each other’s features off all the time, of course, and they don’t sue each other for patent violations.
Apple, however, appears to try patent every tiny little feature it thinks up, and, our patent system appears to be absurd enough to have granted Apple patents on all of these tiny little features. And once you’ve paid lawyers all that money to get you the patent, you might as well pay lawyers a bunch more money to sue people for violating the patent, even if the feature never should have been patent-able in the first place.
Where this latest Apple-Samsung lawsuit lead? The same place the other(s) have led.
Assuming Apple really does have patents on these features, the lawsuit will probably lead to millions of dollars in legal fees on both sides followed by Samsung paying Apple a bunch of money in a settlement in a few years. And because Samsung will no doubt be suing Apple for something at the same time, there will be more millions in legal fees and settlements going the other way.
Meanwhile, consumers will keep buying Apple and Samsung smartphones, which, thankfully, will quickly copy the best features of one another.
(Should some things be patent-able? Of course. Should a mobile auto-suggest spell-checker be patentable in 2012? Absolutely not.)