Stop the smartphone patent war madness


Is anyone thinking about the smartphone users these days? Judging by all of the patent lawsuits being filed, it would seem the entire industry is focused only on getting a piece of the lucrative smartphone pie.

The billions of dollars being spent on lawyers and court fees is not being spent on innovations to improve the end user's experience.

According to a Stanford University study cited by the New York Times, $20 billion has been spent on patent litigation and patent purchases in the last two years. Let me repeat that, $20 billion. In addition, patent-related spending by Apple and Google exceeded their research and development spending last year, according to public filings cited by the newspaper.

The patent system is intended to protect investment by companies in innovative technologies, but now it seems that the system is diverting valuable resources from those innovation efforts. Certainly, Apple spending large sums of money claiming that it owns the right to rounded corners on smartphones is not helping innovation.

One problem is the U.S. process for approving patents. As Dave Their, a contributor to Forbes magazine, explained, "One of the key issues revolves around how patents are approved--the first entity to file a successful patent owns the concept contained therein, and companies can keep resubmitting patents to different reviewers until an application squeaks through. The result is that attrition becomes a clear-cut method toward acquiring broad patents."

Thus, companies with big war chests are able to outlast smaller firms that live or die on their patents being approved.

Something needs to be done to stop the needless diversion of money from innovation to patent litigation. One radical solution would be to abolish patents all together and let companies that deliver the best product and services to the customer reap the financial benefits of innovation.

While that might be too extreme, some changes need to be made to the smartphone patent process to stop the legal madness. - Fred