August 27, 2012 | By Julie Samuels

Apple v. Samsung: What Does a $1 Billion Verdict Really Mean?

We wrote last week that Apple and Samsung would be better off — and their consumers would be better served — if the tech giants took their epic patent battle out of the courtroom and into the marketplace. On Friday, the jury found that Samsung infringed a host of Apple’s patents and awarded Apple $1.05 billion in damages. That's more than a billion less than Apple had demanded and a small drop for Samsung in the grand scheme of things. But it's real money nonetheless, and that's before the injunctions. 

The way the press reported the verdict, one would think the outcome was unexpected or unusual. But really, this case is just the latest in a long line of high-stakes patent litigation, each an instance of a patent system fundamentally unmoored from its constitutional goal. Sure, this case had some interesting elements: patents allegedly covering 3G technology, Apple’s ability to protect the functional designs of its products, and so on. In that regard, Apple v. Samsung is nothing new.

Since Friday, there has been no shortage of news and commentary surrounding the jury’s verdict. So what’s left to say? We can talk about whether a user interface should be covered by a patent (it should not), whether the law should protect the “look and feel” of a product (again, it should not, whether under patent or copyright law), or Apple’s own storied history of finding inspiration from those who came before (just a different way of saying “copying”). But what it comes down to is simple: it is time for this to stop.

The Constitution is clear on why the government grants monopolies: to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts.” Apple would have released the iPhone without a patent covering the rounded edges of its devices or the “rubber band” effect — the way a screen bounces when you scroll to the bottom. These patents, and the resulting lawsuits, do not promote the progress of science and the useful arts. They do not benefit the consumer. Instead, they are just another tool that businesses use to squelch competition and extract money from each other. The answer to competition is, or should be, more innovation, not courtroom battles that cost millions upon millions of dollars and drain judicial resources.

Apple v. Samsung demonstrates so much of what ails our patent system. But it's not all bad. This case made big news; people are paying attention. Now is the time to talk about the many ways that software patents hinder innovation instead of helping it. It is the time to talk about the public interest and how taking Galaxy products off the market would harm consumers. It is the time to talk about how we can find a system that makes sense for how people use, create, and develop software. We are having these conversations at defendinnovation.org and hope you will join us. The system must be fixed. Let’s make it happen.


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