Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Samsung's German lawyer agrees with Apple on the purpose of patent enforcement

DIE ZEIT, a leading German weekly publication, today published an article on its website that talks about the impact of patents and design-related intellectual property rights on innovation and competition. The article contains (besides as couple of references to this blog) various quotes from Henrik Timmann, a lawyer with the firm of Rospatt Osten Pross who represents Samsung against Apple in the ongoing Düsseldorf litigation (mentioned in this Bloomberg article, for example). [Update] The Düsseldorf Regional Court just informed the media that Samsung filed an appeal (it had declared its intent before) against the preliminary injunction that was upheld last Friday. [/Update]

What Mr. Timmann says about patents doesn't sound like an Apple opponent. On the contrary, the way he defends the patent system and the idea of intellectual property enforcement would make him a philosophically compatible candidate for a job in Apple's patent department.

While he didn't want to speak out on Apple v. Samsung per se, here's my verbatim translation of one of the things he said:

"IPRs are rather rarely used as weapons. Companies don't want to impede competition but ensure a fair compensation for the use of their intellectual property or differentiate their products with particularly brilliant product characteristics from their competitors."

The combination of the first sentence quoted and the latter part (after "or") of the second sentence means: what Apple does isn't hostile. It's all about differentiation. So if Apple has some great ideas and gets them protected, it's perfectly appropriate to seek injunctions in order to prevent competitors from implementing the same ideas. He doesn't say injunction, but that's the only way one can interpret the part after "or", since the part before "or" relates to licensing.

Here's how Apple described the same idea in its press release on its first Android-related lawsuit ever (the one against HTC):

"We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We've decided to do something about it," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."

I can't really see a philosophical difference between the two. Maybe Mr. Timmann is a closet fanboi.

The only critical remark he makes about the system in his various quotes in that article is this one (again, my translation):

"I do have a critical perspective on those patent trolls. With their actions they can block entire companies although they don't act in the market themselves."

Since Apple undoubtedly does "act in the market", I guess it's therefore perfectly legit in Mr. Timmann's view if Apple keeps trying to shut down Samsung's products around the globe. The same should apply to other companies' Android-based products, too.

If Mr. Timmann could only convince his Korean client of this position, Apple and Samsung wouldn't even have to go to sue each other over, with so much common ground.

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