Software patents, to put it mildly, are a bit of a mess. Its difficult for us to say that innovation which happens in bits, rather than hardware shouldn’t be protected, but naturally a line must be drawn if progress is to be made. On Friday US federal Judge Richard Posner rendered a verdict that not only left the executives over at Motorola sleeping a bit easier, but could actually be an important precedent for patent litigation going forward.
According to Posner “No more can Apple be permitted to force a trial in federal court the sole outcome of which would be an award of $1.” The victory, if you could call it that, clearly goes to Motorola who was facing an injunction on handset sales. From a much larger perspective however, it could force these companies to look more closely before they leap into court. The judge criticized both parties pretty heavily for pressing for damages, even though neither party was able to calculate exactly what these were. Apple argued for example that Motorola had cost them “consumer goodwill” by stealing methods of “blocking the notification bar partially”, and “turning pages in e-books by pressing a button rather than swiping across the page”.
These are just a few examples, however the list doesn’t get much better. These oblivious and intuitive bits of user interface make it almost impossible for modern handset makers to develop new products without navigating a mess of patents and licensing fees. Apple will appeal the verdict, however being forced to prove damages sounds pretty reasonable to us if you want to sue somebody. This certainly won’t fix the patent office, but it’s the first promising development we’ve seen in a very long time.