Sunday, September 2, 2012

Three Controversies

1. One of the latest legal controversies in America is the design patent battle between Apple and Samsung that came to a close last week.

A number of analysts and investors have weighed in on the result, one that favored Apple in an American court:

Professor Michael Risch of Villanova University, brought up one of the most intriguing points of discussion. While most analysts focus on the impact of the verdict on competition like Google’s Android platform and Microsoft’s Windows mobile platform or on Apple’s ability to safeguard its valuable intellectual property, Risch seems to think “Not being able to copy may make [Samsung] do better things than Apple.”

I agree, and believe that, while companies should be able to license certain aspects of technology to promote healthy competition, they should also have to rely on their heads somewhat and innovate new value into the “conversation” of a competitive marketplace. Where would video games be if Nintendo had not reinvented gaming with the Wii? Both Microsoft and Sony have been forced to put out peripherals called Kinect and Move just to compete.

The design patent victory by Apple, while a seeming victory today, may actually hurt them in the future when competitors come up with innovative and mass market designs before those features occur to Apple. For now, investors seem to think Apple got the better end of the stick.

2. By way of contrast, a second legal controversy occurred between the same two companies in a very different forum with a different result. While Apple won the fight in North American courts, Samsung appears to have won a separately filed, but less important verdict against Apple in Japanese courts:

According to this article, Samsung using “the synchronizing technology that allows media players to share data with personal computers” does not infringe on Apple’s patents.

While a relatively minor victory for Samsung, it could be a positive victory for consumers who really ought to be able to find that feature in any mobile device, just implemented and coded in a unique way.

I am curious whether the forums the two companies chose to file in had anything to do with the disparate results. Apple’s victory came in a court just miles from their headquarters. Japan certainly seems like it might be a more friendly forum to a Japanese company, even though people in Japan are big fans of Apple products.

Were these cases really decided on their merits or are geography and national loyalty the reasons major legal precedents have just been set? Only the courts know for sure.

3. In other entertainment news, this time from the publishing industry, a Navy Seal may be about to be sued by the Pentagon for writing a book, No Easy Day, that tells a different story about the killing of Osama Bin Laden than that told by the White House:

The Pentagon claims breach of contract because the soldier, Matt Bissonnette, agreed in writing not to divulge classified information, and a few copies of the book have already been distributed and paid for. Whether there is classified information in the book or not, it seems like a valuable service to let the American people know what really happened. If Barack Obama or his staff is lying, we ought to know about it even if someone at the Pentagon wants to call it Classified.

As a Veteran myself who had a Top Secret security clearance while in the military, I understand the importance of operational security. We don’t want soldiers still serving to be compromised in any way or put in danger. I also believe strongly that certain information should be in the hands of the people who are paying for it, the American taxpayers.

Is classified information a type of trade secret of the US government? Should we view classified information and trade secrets/other intellectual property as analogous or completely different things? Where should the government’s right to keep things secret end and the public’s right to know begin?

The author of the book is a patriot and war hero, not simply someone trying to make a quick buck off a book at the expense of fellow Navy Seals. He should be treated as such. Unless there is something really important (force protection issues) about what is divulged in the book, the Pentagon should let the author go and even support his book. A cooperative approach might even help them recruit new heroes.

If Hollywood is not prosecuted for making movies about fake Navy Seals fighting terrorists, why should we go after this Navy Seal who fought real ones? Don’t Tom Clancy and John Grisham fiction give terrorists at least as many ideas as the truth? If anything, the patriotic exploits in No Easy Day might discourage terrorists from messing with our sharpest soldiers and the people and ideals they support and defend.

That said, Bissonnette should have included the Navy in the book publishing process much earlier in the process, and the military should in general keep soldiers aware of their obligations to keep certain information secret for the good of those serving and the country they serve.

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