Copying Good Features
Maybe the problem here is that many of the things these companies are suing over should never have been granted as patents in the first place. Has technology and software moved too fast for the patent office so that they’ve ended up granting patents that they don’t understand the implications of? In a word – yes.
Luckily the courts often don’t uphold patents. Thankfully sense also often prevails when it comes to trademarks. Apple trying to trademark the terms “App Store" or “multi-touch" makes me sick. They’re not cleverly constructed or worded brands they are simple descriptions.
From a consumer point of view we want new products that offer great features and we want them to be affordable. If someone comes up with a great idea for a feature and it works really well then I absolutely want to see it in new products, from touch screens to user friendly software interfaces. It makes sense to copy good features rather than re-invent the wheel and the practice is commonplace in loads of other fields without the “we did this first" or “they’re just copying us" moans.
Patents are definitely a big barrier to widely available and affordable technology. But then the truth is that companies are only really focussed on making profit, they aren’t trying to advance the cause of humanity or make our lives better unless they can get rich in the process. If an awesome new development in tech or a new drug doesn’t look like generating enough profit then the company won’t do it and we all lose out.
We’re veering dangerously into anti-capitalist territory now because the idea that profit is the only legitimate driving force of innovation is a central tenet of capitalism and it’s a sad thing for all of us but that’s beyond the scope of this article.