Tags: Apple | Samsung | intellectual property | lawyer

Why Apple Is Just Like Monsanto

By Wednesday, 07 May 2014 08:07 AM Current | Bio | Archive

A Silicon Valley jury awarded Apple (AAPL) $120 million last week in a patent infringement suit against Korea-based Samsung. That may sound like a victory, but don't be so sure.

Since Apple wanted $2.2 billion, you could also say the jury decided Apple was about 6 percent right and 94 percent wrong. The $120 million, if Apple ever collects it, will be barely enough to cover the company's legal costs.

The fact that this dispute landed in a courtroom is a sign that something is very wrong with capitalism, American style. Some of our leading companies have grown to prefer litigation to innovation. Instead of making better products at a better price, they hire lawyers to hold back competitors.

Patent and copyright cases are full of subtle distinctions. That's why intellectual property lawyers make so much money. They are now key players in industries including technology, healthcare and even agriculture. Their work quite literally changes the world — and not necessarily for the better.

Intellectual property law uses the power of government to assert ownership of ideas. As with all state powers, this one is easy to abuse. Exactly how does one "own" a thought?

Writers like me do it all the time. We rearrange words into unique sentences and paragraphs, and then ask people to buy them — with time and attention, if not actual cash. Most people are glad to pay a fair price.

Ownership is fuzzier when the object is a method or process. The Apple vs. Samsung jury agreed with Apple in principle, but disagreed on the degree of monetary harm Apple had suffered.

Agribusiness giant Monsanto (MON) is the king of intellectual property, claiming patents on life itself — genetically modified organisms (GMOs) invented in their laboratories. They sell the resulting seeds and unleash lawyers on any farmers who resist.

What Apple and Monsanto both forget is that Mother Nature is ruthlessly fair. The companies can hold their breaths until they turn blue, but customers have the final say.

If Apple wants to win, it has to make better smartphones and other devices. If Monsanto wants to sell more seeds, it has to convince consumers that its GMO seeds yield the best balance of nutrition and price.

Both companies are losing their respective battles. Smartphone buyers around the globe no longer see Apple as the must-have brand that is worth a premium price. Grocery shoppers in the United States and elsewhere are realizing that cheap carbohydrates clog their arteries and make them gain weight.

Apple and Monsanto would both be better off if they ignored their lawyers and paid more attention to their consumers. Don't hold your breath.

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A Silicon Valley jury awarded Apple (AAPL) $120 million last week in a patent infringement suit against Korea-based Samsung. That may sound like a victory, but don't be so sure.
Apple, Samsung, intellectual property, lawyer
Wednesday, 07 May 2014 08:07 AM
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