The Electronic Frontier Foundation today issued a statement condemning the Apple-Samsung trial as the latest high-profile case to use patent laws to bludgeon innovation and consumer protection in the U.S.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a non-profit legal and advocacy firm concentrating on digital rights. Some of the group’s biggest tech cases have included successful litigation on behalf of Grokster and developers of privacy-protecting software, and helped establish legal precedent defining computer code as free speech.
In an editorial published on its website and titled “Apple and Samsung Should Fight in the Marketplace, not the Courtroom,” the EFF said the possible removal of some of the products at issue in the case will lead to fewer consumer choices and implied it may embolden future companies into mobilizing more arcane parts of their patents as a way to fight off competition. Instructions provided earlier in the week to Samsung-Apple jurors allowed them to consider the banning of a few of the products of either company depending on the specific findings and damages.
Any significant ban on a product is bound to affect the consumer the most, the EFF contends. It says a ban could remove the ecosystem for a product that’s already been purchased, limiting a consumer’s options and diluting a gadget’s original value. Gigantic damages at the end of a patent trial like the Apple-Samsung one could be ultimately subsidized by customers through higher prices of gadgets and customer services.
A more insidious development of patent trolling may be the effect it has on small businesses. Last month, a study at the Boston University School of Law confirmed a disturbing trend many have long suspected: patent trials cost a lot of money, rising business costs “more than fourfold” in the last seven years alone to nearly $30 billion in 2011. Companies with billion dollar-plus revenues like Apple and Samsung can cover that with their yearly profits, but the increasing need for patent litigation usually trickles down and may affect smaller start-ups trying to come up with new, cool products.
The Boston study, in conjunction with survey company RPX, found it costs “on average $1.75 million for a small or medium-sized company to cover legal and settlement costs.” That’s crippling if a small business has any thought to come up against a product that may seem similar. A common sense refrain to this argument says the need to avoid patent litigation forces companies to think more creatively to create more diverse and innovative products. But this thought fails to consider the huge advantage Apple or any other big company has in manufacturing and executive resources, which can be used to monopolize industries.
The EFF recently launched a stand-alone project called Defend Innovation, advocating for change to the U.S. patent law system. The project seeks to create the following changes:
What do you think about the EFF statement? Are patents and the courts really putting down innovation? Let us know in the comments.
- Source EFF.org