When Apple’s case against Motorola from late 2010 finally saw the courtroom floor last month, it was in front of a Federal Judge who volunteered to oversee it. Richard Posner, a judge in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, stepped down to a lower court to see this case, due to his ongoing interest in patent law.
His decision? According to Reuters, the whole case was thrown out the window. The injunction Apple had asked for, that would prevent Motorola phones from being sold in the USA, was rejected. The alleged patent infringement by Motorola was ruled to not exist. Apple had lost one of their biggest patent cases, against a company owned by Google, one of their biggest rivals.
Posner says that in the software industry, patents have become much more a way of attacking opponents than a way of defending legitimate intellectual property rights. He says, “As in any jungle, the animals will use all the means at their disposal, all their teeth and claws that are permitted by the ecosystem.”
We went on to say that “It’s not clear that we really need patents in most industries,” and stressed that technology companies benefit greatly from being the first company to bring a new feature to the market, which doesn’t require patents, since other companies copying that feature later will not receive this benefit.
He also pointed out the vast number of components that go into the average smartphone these days, many of which are sourced from several other companies, and all of which have their own respective patents on them. “You just have this proliferation of patents,” Posner said. “It’s a problem.”
Posner’s opinion seems to be at odds with fellow U.S. judge Lucy Koh, who granted Apple an injunction against Samsung that appears very similar to the one Posner has thrown out. These sorts of discrepancies between judges will continue to happen, until such time as the patent laws regarding software are made less ambiguous, and hard to be gamed by the lawyers of tech companies.