Apple Patents The Wedge

Apple Patents The Wedge

It’s not a secret that the tech industry is being distorted by our imperfect patent system. Companies are being purchased to obtain their patent portfolios rather than, say, their product lines or talented employees. The mobile phone market seems to be driven as much by patent lawsuits as by genuine innovation. Here’s an eye-opening chart of the lawsuits among the major smartphone competitors, which summarizes the state of affairs this way:

“A slew of lawsuits are rocking the smartphone industry as nearly every major manufacturer fights to get cash from the others for using its patents, to block its opponents’ products from being imported into the U.S., or just to bleed out their energy paying for lawyers rather than engineers. That could mean fewer smartphones, devices missing features, or a general slowdown of innovation in the future.”

It’s hard to avoid feeling that the world is spinning out of control when Apple gets a patent on . . . the wedge. The Verge reported today that Apple was given a patent on the profile of the Macbook Air, which looks like a wedge from the side because it tapers from the back to the front.

“A notebook with hinges, feet or a shaped back different than the MacBook Air could still be infringing as long as the rest — primarily the claimed wedge profile — is substantially similar. On the other hand, competitors can still rely on meaningful tweaks to the angles, shapes and proportions of their notebook designs to avoid the patent . . .”

Apple has been one of the most aggressive companies in the smartphone patent wars. It’s entirely possible that Apple will file lawsuits against notebook manufacturers who dare to design their laptops with a tapering shape to make them thinner and lighter.

It invites parody, doesn’t it? Apple is keeping a close eye on possible infringement by the cheese industry. <rimshot> Apple’s lawyers are preparing to file Apple v. Flock Of Geese in federal court. <drum roll> All eyes are on Google’s application to patent the parallelogram, which experts note could be construed to include the rectangle. <cymbal crash>

Except it’s not a joke. Patent games have turned into a deadly serious drag on the energy and vitality of the entire tech industry, a game played for competitive advantage and a continuing employment act for a highly specialized corner of the legal industry.