Intellectual property is a full-contact sport.
Yes, you read that right.
I mean full-contact, complete with trash talking, gloves come off, smack-down contact.
Punches are thrown. Combatants get bloodied and bruised. There are winners and losers.
Don’t believe me? Just check out the ruckus surrounding Samsung and Apple in their battle for smart phone supremacy.
Unfortunately, there are those in the media who don’t understand this simple concept.
An ill-informed media pretend that they understand the intricacies of patent law after an interview or 2 with a disgruntled company and a few hours of research. They twist words, spew fiction as fact, and completely misrepresent the law. Then these reporters refer to patent lawsuits as “WAR” as if U.S. lawmakers never intended for companies to sue over patent rights.
They would have you believe that IP is like golf. That it’s a gentleman’s game where nobody gets hurt. No one sues anybody. Everyone gets a license with great terms if they want one, and companies that choose litigation over licensing aren’t playing by the rules. They point to an increase in the number of patent contests as a sign that the system is broken.
But anyone who knows a thing or two about patent litigation knows that’s not true, and never has been true.
Patents first and foremost are offensive weapons.
Patents aren’t magic amulets that protect your product or your business from infringers.
They are the means by which companies assert their rights to their government-granted monopoly. And guess what? Lawsuits are, and have always been, the intended method of asserting those rights.
In fact, patent lawsuits have been around for a very long time.
So why is there so much criticism now?
What has changed (and brought a massive amount of exposure to patent litigation) is the number of prominent participants, especially Apple, as well as the huge amounts of money at stake.
A few high-profile technology giants decided to up the ante in patent litigation. For the first time in decades, some of the biggest patent owners in the US turned to their patent portfolios to protect their market share. And Apple’s involvement in serious patent litigation brought massive amounts of attention to something that no one in the mainstream media ever cared about before.
For years, most people, including journalists, never thought twice about patent litigation. Suddenly, Steve Jobs says that Apple will go thermonuclear on Google, and people demand to know what’s going on. A big verdict and a few billion dollar+ patent auctions later and the world as they understand it has been turned upside down.
However, the world of patent litigation, as most people understand it today, never existed.
IP has always been about how you use it to protect your market share. It’s meant to stop anyone who would intrude on your property. It’s is not passive or defensive.
So it’s time to stop pointing to the “Smart Phone Wars” as an example of what’s wrong with the system.
THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THE PATENT SYSTEM.
In fact, this is exactly how the system was designed to operate. You just didn’t know that.
I’m sorry if you don’t like it. I’m sorry if this type of aggressive action somehow offends you.
Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Google…they all know what they are doing. It’s the risk they decided to take when they put their products out into the marketplace fully aware that there could be patents out there that could impact their business.
So to everyone who wants to be in business today…
- Ignore your intellectual property at your own peril. If you’re the second inventor or you file your patent application late, you are probably out of luck. That great thing you “invented”. You may not own the rights to it. Not everyone is guaranteed a trophy in this contest.
- Ignore another company’s intellectual property at your peril. You aren’t guaranteed a license. In fact, assume you won’t get one.
- If the only thing you’re willing to do is get a patent, you are wasting your money. I know I said it before, but it needs to be repeated, patents aren’t magic amulets that protect you from patent infringement. It’s a business tool that can help you achieve great success, but only if you use it!
- If you aren’t prepared to step into the arena, walk up to your opponent, and throw that patent around, what are you going to do with it? And please don’t say frame it and hang it on the wall in the lobby.
If you want your intellectual property to work for you, you have to be prepared to fight for your rights.