Apple Inc., formerly Apple Computers Inc. has long been known for it’s approach to patent infringers, that is, sue the pants off them.
Patents in the electronics and software industry are relatively new, not unlike the technology they cover. In the early days of personal computers and consumer electronics, there were many grey areas in patent law coverage. Well, that’s being generous. There were gaping holes and concepts that were simply not thought of yet.
Patents have come a long way since the release of the first personal computer in 1973. Both software and hardware are routinely patented, although the process has not been streamlined much if the time from application to patent approval, or rejection is any evidence.
But have things gone too far? In the past year we have seen headlines like, ‘Apple patents the rectangle’ and more recently, ‘Apple patents the virtual page turn.’ For your information, Apple was awarded the rectangle patent earlier this month. Not kidding, look it up.
I am 100 per cent behind the enforcement of intellectual property and copywriting. I’m also very thankful I’m not the one responsible for figuring out the details.
Given my limited personal experience in the patent arena, I have long struggled with one key issue in patents, that of their defence. It’s one thing to go through the arduous patent process and get approval. That would be an article (read rant) all on its own.
Just the same, it seems to me that having a patent doesn’t guarantee you anything by itself. You need the resources to actively defend these patents. Not just legal teams to win the day in the courtroom, but people whose job it is to constantly scan for infringements. Trust me, no one is likely to walk up to you and say, “Excuse me, I believe I accidentally infringed upon your patent. Would you like to settle out of court?”
In short, it’s not just companies or individuals with bigger resource stashes that patent something first. These same companies can afford to tie up the competition in court until winning by default once the less resource heavy company gives up or folds.
I can’t say is this is common practice, but it seems a logical way for things to progress.
Fair enough, people have the right to defend their intellectual property. A portion of the custom computer programming I do each year technically falls under a category of open source licencing that requires me to release the modifications back to the public. That work which I do that is not open source is generally the property of the client I do it for and why not, they paid for it.
But a rectangle patent? Not certain I can get behind that one Apple, sorry.
Jon Reid is an IT professional working in Corner Brook. His column appears every other Tuesday in The Western Star.