2. On the grounds of prior art
OK, so “ridiculousness and greed” wasn’t really much more than just my chagrin articulated in text, but prior art is a legitimate thing when it comes to evaluating patents and intellectual property. Based on my perusal of patent rules and the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (the MPEP for short, and man is that thing complex) the nutshell definition of prior art is that “it’s been done before.” Now while people were marveling over the iPhone when it was released in the summer of 2007, no one seemed to recall the Neonode N1m, a Windows CE device released in 2005, almost 2 years prior to the iPhone. The N1m was a touchscreen device that had one very relevant feature to this story: you slide your finger from left to right on the screen to unlock it. There’s a video review of the N1m on YouTube that was made around the time of the iPhone release (via Android Central). You can skip the beginning and start at the 4:00 mark. It clearly shows the sweeping left to right motion over a visibly marked lock area to unlock the device and get back to the functional menus. This case was dismissed by Dutch courts for this very reason. While Apple and Samsung are taking shots at each other across the pond, the N1m came up, forcing the judge to rule that Apple’s patent claim as “non-inventive” and likely invalid.
3. On grounds of “for the good of the game”
When it comes to software and especially mobile tech, it’s relatively easy for large corporations to either file trivial patents for the sole purpose of extracting money from others or to acquire smaller companies and get ownership of their patents, again for the sole purpose of extracting money from others. Weaponizing a practice that was originally meant to protect an inventor from unjust theft changes the game. With this new strategy, fear of a lawsuit creates a huge new barrier to entry for small startups and inventors, who could be forced with a horrible decision between huge licensing fees and closing up shop. And as for patent wars between tech giants, why invest in R&D and engineering to try to come up with something new and inventive for consumer-generated revenue streams when you can buy or bully a startup for less and charge licensing fees? Take a look at the recent Microsoft-Compal deal. Now Microsoft collects licensing fees from over half of Android device manufacturers. So instead of tech teams trying to innovate, surprise! A new patent troll comes screaming and kicking into the world. Look at all that wasted talent.