Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe. Follow @RianVDM
Apple v Samsung v Patent Law: a tale of conflating arguments
Today’s verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer. It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices. It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners, or technology that is being improved every day by Samsung and other companies.
Conflation is the practice of “treating two distinct concepts as if they were one, which produces errors or misunderstandings, as a fusion of distinct subjects tends to obscure analysis of relationships which are emphasized by contrasts.” This is one of the things that’s happening with the Apple v Samsung patent case. Saying that Apple won the case against Samsung because OMG PATENTS ARE BROKEN is conflating two separate arguments.
No one in their right mind is arguing that the current patent system promotes innovation (as it was originally intended). If, for some reason, you are still trying to make this argument, just have a listen to the This American Life episode When Patents Attack! It’s sure to change your mind.
So, we agree that the patent system is broken. But this begs the question: How should Apple (and any other company) go about protecting their intellectual property? Is there another way except through the (yes, broken!) patent system?
Let’s say you have to be somewhere, and the only way to get there is on a crappy gravel road full of potholes. What do you do? Do you say “ah, screw it” and turn around, or do you rent a Land Rover and grit your teeth through the wobbles? “This road is horrible” and “I got to my destination” are not mutually exclusive truths in that scenario. Likewise, it’s completely legitimate to say “The patent system is broken”, and in the same breath, “We were able to stop Samsung from copying us”.
Please, let’s stop conflating these arguments. We have to work to reform the patent system, while we simultaneously work to stop blatant copying. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”