updated 12:49 pm EDT, Thu July 5, 2012
Judge tossed Apple patent case against Motorola
The judge who recently dismissed an Apple patent infringement case against Motorola, Richard Posner, has questioned the need for software patents in a new interview with Reuters. He argues that the smartphone industry is suffering from a "proliferation of patents," and that software patents may not be necessary, since writing a program requires much less investment than what a pharmaceutical company, for instance, might put into developing a new drug. "It's not clear that we really need patents in most industries," he says.
The judge's views may have affected the Apple v. Motorola case and others. Many in the industry have complained, though, that the smartphone industry is suffering under a sea of lawsuits, many of them initiated by Apple, or filed in response. Aside from Motorola, Apple's main targets have been Samsung and HTC.
Posner supports the view that smartphone makers are using patent suits as a competitive weapon. He points out that paying a legal team is a "small expense" for corporations like Apple, which had $110 billion in cash and securities alone at the end of the March quarter. "It's a constant struggle for survival," he comments. "As in any jungle, the animals will use all the means at their disposal."
Before his death, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs infamously claimed that Google's Android platform was "stolen" from the iPhone, and that he was willing to go "thermonuclear war" over it. Apple has mainly directed its lawsuits against Android device makers, and may be hoping to slow the platform down; while the iPhone continues to sell extremely well, Android phones have been catching up or surpassing it by some metrics.
Regarding Apple v. Motorola, Posner says he had no choice but to toss the lawsuit. "I didn't think I could have a trial just for fun," he explains. One argument he made was that it was folly to ban a whole phone based on patents covering minor features, such as smooth streaming video.