Monday, August 29, 2011

Lawyers trump programmers

There as a time when the success of a hi-tech product was pretty much in the hands of those who designed it, those who implemented the design, and the marketing team that sold it.

Come up with a great idea, design a solution around it, get some kick-ass engineers and programmers to turn that solution into a reality then let your ace sales-team take it to the world. Pretty soon you'll be able to kick back and count your profits.

And that's the way it ought to be.

Unfortunately, in the second decade of the 21st century, that's increasingly *not* the way things are working out.

It seems that these days, it's the lawyers who are determining which products will succeed and which products will not.

Take the tablet and cellphone marketplaces for instance.

Right now there's a huge battle underway between patent-holders -- each of which is trying to shoot their competition down by filing suit for all manner of infringements.

Of course patent law is there for a purpose and all good ideas need protection yet, for some reason, it seems that we've almost reached the point where you can't make anything new without infringing someone else's rights.

Apple claim that Samsung are infringing their patents with the Galaxy mobile phone and their tablet computer. In some jurisdictions, the courts are siding with Apple. Sucks to be Samsung.

Of course Samsung, like many other manufacturers, is basing their software on Google's Android OS but have made a few tweaks that apparently fall foul of those Apple patents.

Then there is the war brewing between Google (with the VP8 video codec it has built into WebM) and the patent pool entity MPEG LA who are rattling the lawsuit sabre.

Many commentators claim that ridiculously lax patent laws are partly to blame for the fiasco that is currently emerging in the hi-tech sector. Some argue that many of the patents which have been granted, especially in the software area, are neither novel nor without significant prior-art and therefore ought not to qualify for protection.

Unfortunately, so long as all sides have plenty of cash and a seemingly unlimited army of lawyers, the only winners will be the BMW and Porsche salesmen.

In the meantime, Google and other companies are now finding that it is often cheaper to buy up those companies who have the patents you might otherwise infringe than it would be do battle in a courtroom or to license a right to use that intellectual property.

Let's hope this whole situation gets sorted soon and we can get back to the process of coming up with really smart, innovative, affordable and useful hi-tech products.

Am I holding my breath?


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