I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of seeing a patent settlement (or lawsuit) announced as the headline of the day almost every single day for the past several months. This has been going on for years, but suddenly patent suits are the holy grail to journalists hoping to fuel the fires of their audience either in favor of or against these large multinational corporations. The fight has spread from the board room to the chat room as comment threads fill up with boycott demands and repeated propaganda from both sides.
Frankly, I’m tired of it. Folks who know absolutely nothing about the law are going off on their fellow tech enthusiasts and demanding boycotts for companies that are doing what the law expects them to do. Oh, you didn’t know about that? If Apple (or any other patent-holding corporation) doesn’t fight to protect its patent in almost every case, it could face an uphill battle defending it in others. For example, if you let one company copy the screen technology you use on your devices, another company will step in and copy it as well, claiming it copied its design from the first corporation and not yours. It becomes a messy situation, and one over which multinational corporations can lose millions of dollars. Note: I’m not saying you either use it or lose it, but there are plenty of examples of people and companies coming forward with too little too late on otherwise legitimate patent disputes. It’s hard to convince a judge that a giant corporation is in the wrong when it’s been producing and selling (infringing) technologies for any extended period of time.
Does this mean that Apple is in the right by forcing such a strong legal hand that it drives products off the store shelves? Perhaps not, but that call is in the hands of the judges, and those judges are doing what they feel is right based on what they know.
This leads me to believe that patent law (at least in the US) needs to be changed, and judges need to be properly educated on how hardware and software work before taking on a patent dispute over them. If you don’t know what it is on which you’re ruling, how can you make an informed decision at all?
Here are my proposals:
Let’s Take a Moment to Inform Ourselves About Patent Law
If you’re about to spend hours out of each day commenting on every thread you see asking people to boycott this and rebel against that, at least take the time to inform yourself about the dispute. Read the complaint filed in the courts, and ask a patent attorney what their take on the subject is. Whether that attorney is absolutely correct or not, at least you’ll be coming from a more informed point of view when spamming comment threads. Trendy activism never works. What works is honest, educated resistance.
Patent law in the US is slightly different than it is in the UK. This is another major thing to consider. A lot of the legal battles taking place right now aren’t even on our shores; they’re overseas where the laws are different. Educating ourselves (as citizens) is a great first step toward making a change, or at the very least making an informed decision about what to do to make our opinions heard by the folks in the board rooms.
Push for a Change in Legislation
Boycotting companies will do very little to change the laws surrounding patents, trademarks, and copyrights. If you want to make a change, you have to go through the folks who make (and vote on) the laws to do so. Citizen-drafted bills are one way to introduce legislation to the bodies responsible for passing them. Contact your local legislator and find out what you can do to make change happen. If your local representative(s) are opposed to change, the next step would be to campaign to help a candidate who does agree with you take that seat in Congress.
Assemble a group of like-minded people to form a movement. It’s really not as hard as you think. After all, the Boycott Apple folks would be very receptive to focusing their energies on legislative change if the argument was presented to them in the right way. Remember Kony 2012? Stop SOPA? This is your cause; make it a big deal.
Put Your Support Behind the Open Source Community
Did you know that there is an entire world of software (and hardware) that is built by and for a community that cares more about advancing free information than protecting corporate interests? The open source community is very large, and if more folks put their time and money into advancing these projects that are made freely available to people (for use and modification), then perhaps less of these patent disputes would matter much.
Perhaps the open source movement can come up with some inventive ideas, patent them, and make them available to the public (as well as corporations) to use however they see fit. If you truly believe in free and open information, then you may want to consider throwing your financial support in that direction, instead.
I strongly believe that if everyone who shouted to the hills (whether they meant it or not) to boycott Apple would have placed that same effort toward promoting Ubuntu, Linux Mint, open hardware projects, Audacity, or any other open platform, it would have a dramatic impact on corporate policy.
The power is in your hands to make change where change is needed. Repeating the same bandwagon line that so many people are shouting from the rooftops does little in terms of changing the way a corporation acts. If anything, Apple is ramping up its legal actions. Apple knows many (if not most) of the people shouting “Boycott Apple” are going to turn around and buy an iPhone or Mac within the next few years. Make a difference by channeling this passion towards building something to make a lasting difference. Learn about patent law, push for change in the legal system, and support open projects.
What about you? What are your thoughts on the issue? How can we, as a community, put a stop to the patent wars?