Monday, February 27, 2012

The Circular Firing Squad: How lawyers are choking off innovation

All the titans of the mobile industry are fighting for a foothold in a business where whoever gets their first wins. But then someone, probably Steve Jobs, came upon a brilliant idea, a way to put a giant boulder in front of their competition on the superhighway of innovation, patents.  Soon you needed to have approval from at least 70,000 patents before you could even draw up an idea for a smartphone. The downside of this is it seems to be slowly killing innovation. When Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were getting started it was the Wild West.  People could steal from and for almost anyone because no one but a handful full of pasty white men knew what it all did.  So you could smash together three unrelated items, and then you had something that was actually useful.  But that is no longer possible.

Innovation cannot be crowded with litigation. The guy building the app that’s going to change the way we do business may never change our lives because he doesn’t have a big company behind him. Instead, he is going to end up bleeding shoeless in a gutter because the Apple Genius thugs came after him with baseball bats.  Their crisp white shirts and skinny black ties spattered with his tears and blood.

This is a sad trend that shows no signs of slowing despite the fact that it seems to be crushing these companies under its own weight. Kodak, once a fairly well known camera company, is one of the main suing apparatuses that have filed for chapter 11 while still spending millions on litigation against anyone with a camera on their phone. But one hopes that this is a bit of a wakeup call.  Because these patents not only put a chokehold on others but they also keep an industry from truly innovating for fear that they will be sued to the fillings in their teeth.