The patenting problems of private inventors and corporate giants are normally a million miles apart. The biggest difference of course is the ability of corporates to afford vast legal fees, enabling them to argue and appeal until the cows come home. By contrast, very few inventors or SMEs can afford even to get to court to enforce their patents.
Another difference is that there is rarely an outright kill when the goliaths punch it out. Win or lose, they survive to fight and compete another day. Unlike many private inventors and small companies, who can be financially or commercially wiped out even if they win.
But last week’s California jury decision to award Apple $1bn in damages for patent infringement by Samsung may help change the game for private inventors in one way. The unprecedented publicity given to the case has helped raise public awareness of the pros and cons of patents, and that can only be a good thing. For example, in the many years I’ve been involved with invention I can’t recall any item about patents – or even mentioning patents – getting top billing on BBC national news bulletins for a whole day.
Hopefully, once the media have got past the amounts of money involved, a discussion about IP, invention, innovation, patent infringement and the patent system will continue in spaces where the whole shebang would normally be written off as too boring for words. This won’t benefit inventors overnight, but out of little acorns…
Already Apple v Samsung is producing some interesting spin-offs: not least an interview with the remarkably astute foreman of the jury, explaining how the $1bn damages decision was reached. Reading between the lines, here is a man whose informed view, good sense and thinly veiled criticism might on its own drag out into the open a currently esoteric and complacent debate about the fitness for purpose of the patent system.
So if billion-dollar lawsuits are what it takes to make the public aware of how inequitable the patent system is, and how it doesn’t just hamper inventors and innovators but potentially distorts our entire economic future, let’s have more of them.