Silicon Valley? Try "Litigation Valley"

By Jessica Binns, Contributing Editor — November 27, 2012

If recent news reports are any indication, technology giants, especially those in the mobile arena, are the most litigious members of our lawsuit-happy society.

Patents have become an essential part of succeeding in the technology industry; whoever holds the most, wins — which explains Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility, and Apple's quest to patent just about everything under the sun. The iPad maker has been particularly dogged in going after chief rival Samsung, recently expanding its lawsuit agains the Korean company to include six additional devices, among them the flagship Galaxy S III smartphone, Galaxy Note II, Galaxy Tab 8.9 Wi-Fi and the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In its original suit, Apple claims that Samsung infringed on its patents related to technology, interface and style. After a jury awarded $1 billion in Apple's favor and ordered some Samsung devices removed from the market, the Korean firm scored a promising victory when it got its Galaxy Tab 10.1 back on shelves.

Samsung, of course, countersued Apple.

Apple got its first real taste for litigation against HTC - the first time it went after a manufacturer making Android devices. The two companies recently agreed to a global patent settlement and 10-year licensing agreement, the details of which remain undisclosed.

One wonders at what point these lawsuits will tax the public's patience and understanding, not to mention common sense.

"To award a monopoly right to finger gestures and rounded rectangles is to stretch the definition of 'novel' to its breaking-point," according to The Economist.

All of this litigation is harmful, The Economist argues, not only because the tech titans will focus on competing more in the courtroom than in the market, but also because small start-ups seeking to improve on their forebears won't have the deep pockets necessary to compete. What's more, the lawsuit frenzy will only further fuel patent trolls and defensive patenting, neither of which furthers innovation.

"Because of the ambiguity of Apple's patent, Samsung technically committed infringement by using the most logical design for its product," reports the Orlando Sentinel. "As a society, we've been fooled into thinking that copying interferes with innovation." If copying were so bad for society, we'd still be living in the Dark Ages.

In the end, the cost of the lawsuits and excessive patenting gets passed onto buyer: the consumer and the enterprise. But what, exactly are, you paying for? A better device? And improved user interface? Slicker application integration? No, you're paying more for the simple cost of these tech firms doing business.

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