No, this is not an episode of Grimm, where we see the Hässlich as they collect their fee. This is not the case of David Giuntoli, beheading reapers and taking care of the trolls. This is today, the trolls are real and the fee goes up by hundreds of millions. This is the case of SMARTFLASH LLC, et al. v. APPLE, INC., et al. The article was from Cnet, but I got wind of it through EpicTimes. All this got to blows not because of the amount, but because this issue has been allowed to fester for well over two decades. The issue takes a legal leap into the unknown, which is still unmanaged at present. The questions that we have to pose is in two parts.
- Is this a festering scene?
You see, it is nice for Apple to cry wolf, but is it a valid scene of the crying? The fact is that Smartflash LLC has 7 patents, the first one filed Oct 25, 2000, with a Foreign Application Priority date (UK) of Nov 25th 1999, and this makes it a patent that was filed before the initial release of Apple’s iTunes, which was January 9th, 2001.
The Apple response we see (at http://www.cnet.com/news/apple-ordered-to-pay-533-million-over-alleged-itunes-patent-infringement/)
“Smartflash makes no products, has no employees, creates no jobs, has no U.S. presence, and is exploiting our patent system to seek royalties for technology Apple invented. We refused to pay off this company for the ideas our employees spent years innovating and unfortunately we have been left with no choice but to take this fight up through the court system”, so let’s take a look at the slightly empty response as I see it:
‘Makes no products‘, is not a prerequisite for a patent;
‘Has no employees‘, is also not an issue, someone filed for this case and someone filed for a patent. Whether this is an employee is not an issue;
‘Exploiting our patent system to seek royalties for technology Apple invented‘, is slightly moot. The patent was filed before iTunes existed, hence, we could argue that Apple did not invent what they did, the latter statement is an incorrect one, but I will return to this.
Now let me rephrase the Apple statement in a very unflattering way: “Smartflash had an original idea, the idea was not novel because this is the direction the world was moving to”. This notion was a clear given ever since day two that Napster got active. The people understanding these technologies would innovate and come up with ideas. Unlike me, who was a Patent Virgin in 1999 (and unaware of the power they hold) would see that the future is all about IP, so some of these people would file the ideas and they would stick. Now we see that Apple might have reinvented the wheel, but reinvention is no invention at all. It becomes a license and Smartflash LLC only had to wait for their chooks to grow and grow. Now pay day has arrived.
So as we go back to the initial part, questions come to mind. Questions many (including Apple) might not want an answer to, because the answer might be a lot scarier than we all imagine. You see, in previous blogs I discussed the dangers of a faltering and collapsing economy, because those in charge remained too flaccid to actually act on issues. The consequence is that if a monetary system collapses, what will replace it? In my view, the new currency for any corporation and government is Intellectual Property. If that is true, than those who own the property will become the new true wealth.
This makes Patrick Racz a visionary of massive fortune, if we see the first fee that Apple will end up paying, what will happen to the next step? What will the Samsung invoice become? Beyond that, Apple now has a choice to make, the entire DRM future is now no longer in the hands of the large industrials, so that coin will be making massive waves soon enough.
So where is the festering part? Well, Patent Trolls are not a new group. This ‘valid’ group has existed since the early 90’s. So over the last two decades, this groups had not been dealt with. The valid question becomes, should Patent Trolls be dealt with? You see, patents get bought all the time, someone goes bankrupt, the patent is bought, perhaps sold by a bank trying to limit its losses. This market evolved, because the issue as is, is that corporate ‘losses’ due to patent trolling has been exceeding 20 billion a year from 2010 onwards. So, why not act against trolling?
The question becomes is it wrong to be a troll? The Hässlich might disagree if we say yes. The fact is that those with the novel idea, might not have the means to pursue the real deal. So they might want to file their original idea. To give you an example, which you might not believe, is that I came up with the idea around 1994. Now, it could be seen as a DPod (Data Pod), my idea was not in that direction, you see. In my past I was confronted with the ‘joke’, that was known as a tape streamer. It was a backup solution that never properly worked in households. So I had the idea to make the Minidisc a backup device. To connect it to computers, so that we could copy files, the Minidisc looked like a 3.5″ floppy, but could hold hundreds of megabytes. It could have evolved the need for diskettes and it would have propelled data halve a decade earlier. I would have been decently wealthy. So, I should have patented the idea (although, in those days I did not realise I could). So as such, Patrick Racz was the clever one. Yet, in view of all this, did Apple lag? That becomes the cornerstone in all this. Does it matter? Is a more apt question. A patent was filed, Apple did not do its homework as I see it a cost comes into play.
So now we get a new issue, will Apple et al ‘force’ a change in patenting? Will capping be imposed? All decent questions that are for tomorrow. For today, Apple gets to admire its own armour, which is not as shiny as it was yesterday. I must however state, that I personally do not think that Apple did anything wrong. Now I return to the initial exploiting part I promised to revisit. They came up with an idea and they designed it. In 1370, a Dutchman named Laurens Janszoon Coster came up with an idea, it was the printing press. He came up with the idea around the same time Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg came up with the same idea. They both had similar (not identical) ideas in a time when the need for a cheaper solution was needed. The Dutch and the Germans all state that their citizen discovered the idea, which is fair enough. I think that this is a similar situation. In all fairness it seems to me that the patent system did not allow for such a situation, it does not make it right or wrong, the situation just is. In a land (US) where it is all about number one, it must now bite that this patent is in hands of a non-American. So as we realise that any system is flawed, is it flawed enough? If patents are about innovation, are the little people the solution? I have always believed that true innovation will survive, big companies will need to consider the age old situation, having the person with the ‘nice’ PowerPoint, does not mean that they have the innovation.
- Is it unmanaged?
Like any legal system, the Patent system is good, but is it good enough? This one case is calling for visibility, but one case does not a change make. If we go back to 2013 we see the following in Forbes (at http://www.forbes.com/sites/toddhixon/2013/10/04/for-most-small-companies-patents-are-just-about-worthless/). “But, TechCo will need to use a lot of other technology to build and deliver a complete product, e.g., the product design might be protected by a patent, but the manufacturing process might be subject to another company’s “blocking” patent“. Here is the kicker, there has been a lot of noise on how large corporations have the ability to block others. If we accept Business Insider (at http://www.businessinsider.com.au/chart-of-the-day-the-totally-useless-patent-wars-2014-10) “In other words, based on patent cases brought to court by Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia, Motorola, and a host of others, litigation is, more often than not, a serious waste of time and money for all parties involved“. The question is, should the system change? Because these big boys are in disagreement, does not mean that the system should just fall away. Are these patent cases valid to begin with? If we look at the quote “As it turns out, only 20 or the 222 patent assertions (9%) were able to establish liability, but even in that small sample, only 10 of those 20 cases resulted in “lasting injunctive relief.” Mueller says that number would be even smaller if “the patents underlying Nokia’s German injunctions against HTC had come to judgment in the Federal Patent Court.”“. My question is that if the numbers are this skewed, why take it to court in the first place? What was the tactic behind it? Delay? A mere pissing contest or was this about satisfying the need for additional costs? I have no idea, but the result data speaks for itself. Is the score so impressive that pursuing a 10% chance is essential, worth the effort or it is something else?
I do not proclaim to have the answer, but the questions are not getting asked, moreover, the press at large have all quoted Apple on their ‘indignation’, but answer me this, how many papers gave any view, brought any decent quotes from Brad Caldwell apart from the one liner victory? In addition, when we see Reuters (at http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/25/us-ip-apple-verdict-idUSKBN0LT0E720150225), the quote “Apple, which said it would appeal, said the outcome was another reason reform was needed in the patent system to curb litigation by companies that don’t make products themselves“, that sounds nice in theory, but that leaves only the large companies in charge of it all, it takes out the small innovators whilst large corporations are left choking those small innovators for a mere tuppence to get complete control. Patents were never designed to give power to the manufacturers, they were an exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention. However, as the world became all about shore term goals and iterative exploitation, in that regard patents are a massive impropriety to the need of large corporations.
Time will tell what direction the legal industry makes, for now, as Apple and Google are so about non tax accountability, the danger of actual change remains not too large (only for now).