Apple-Motorola Judge Questions Need for Software Patents
Late last month, federal judge Richard Posner threw out one of the major U.S. cases in the ongoing patent battle between Apple and Motorola, and Reuters today publishes an interesting interview with Posner in which he discusses his view that patents have become too widely used and suggests that there may not be a need for software patents at all.
Noting his belief that software and other industries do not require the same level of patent protection as industries like pharmaceuticals where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to develop a single protected product, Posner indicates individual software advances require much less economic investment and much of the benefit is gained simply by being first to market.
"It's not clear that we really need patents in most industries," he said.
Also, devices like smartphones have thousands of component features, and they all receive legal protection.
"You just have this proliferation of patents," Posner said. "It's a problem."
In Posner's ruling last month, he noted that Apple's patent on smooth operation of streaming video was in no way a monopoly on all streaming video and that barring an entire product over a single feature would be harmful to consumers. Posner also ruled against Motorola in its efforts to ban the iPhone over standards-essential patents that were to be licensed under fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.
Apple is of course involved in intellectual property disputes with a number of companies, with the cases including both software patents and design rights. Just this week, a ban on U.S. sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy Nexus went into effect as Apple won preliminary injunctions, but the company also experienced setbacks in its battle with HTC in recent days. In those cases, both the U.S. International Trade Commission and a UK court ruled in HTC's favor, with the UK judge ruling that several of Apple's patents including one covering the "slide-to-unlock" feature are invalid in that country.