Sunday, July 17, 2022

Opinion piece in Colombia's largest newspaper on Ericsson's preliminary injunction criticizes Apple's "abusively capitalist practices" but claims 5G isn't patentable

Ericsson's preliminary injunction against Apple in Colombia is already having impact on the market--and has presumably shocked Apple even though it generates only 0.2% of its global sales in that South American country. The decision has drawn significant media attention in Colombia, from bloggers and TikTokkers (one of whom I gave a short interview in Spanish discussing, at a more general level, the importance of patent protection) to television stations and the country's highest-circulation newspaper, El Tiempo.

I've just seen an op-ed that appeared in today's edition of El Tiempo. The author, María Isabel Rueda, declares herself a fan of Apple's products but a critic of Apple's practices. The former seems more important to her than the latter, which is why she's angry at Ericsson, but the second paragraph from the bottom won't please anyone in Cupertino:

"I belong to the Apple community, I love its technology, but I don't agree with its abusively capitalist practices. Each time one updates a device, they change the connectors. And in this very column I've written that in ways you don't notice, they make your old gadget slower and more dysfunctional. But whether you switch to a different brand should still be decided freely."

As for that allegation of planned obsolescence, I don't know whether that is true at this stage, but what it shows is that the journalist isn't totally aligned with Apple--except on the question of that Ericsson injunction.

She accuses Judge Ronald Neil Orozco Gómez of not being competent to make such a far-reaching decision (though I, for one, think the PI order looks pretty good), but then she says something that is just unbelievable:

"What if [a U.S. court] holds, as is the case in my humble opinion, that patenting 5G is like patenting sunlight or the speed of the wind? Everyone will--which is legit--patent the most efficient way of reaching that higher speed. But 5G, to the extent I understand it, is an unpatentable achievement of humanity."

Maybe the journalist should have reached out to people who could have furthered her understanding. Ericsson is not asserting a patent on 5G speeds, but on one of the techniques that make it happen. Ericsson holds many thousands of patents of this kind, and so do a few other companies such as Huawei, Qualcomm, Nokia--and even Apple itself is suing Ericsson over a standard-essential patent (4G).

Another misconception is that she says "each of the devices we're talking about implements millions of patents." Looking at the low number of the patent in question, and at a blog post by the law firm of Olarte Moure (which is representing Ericsson in that case), the Colombian patent office (SIC) granted only 1,384 patents in 2018, up almost 7% from the previous year. At that pace, given that a patent lasts 20 years from its priority date, there's no way that millions of Colombian patents could be infringed by any product. It's mathematically impossible.

Apple holds the keys to the kingdom in its hands: a licensing offer that it can accept anytime.

I don't blame Mrs. Rueda for her misconceptions. Patent law, and even more so the specialized field of standard-essential patents, is difficult to research, and she's a generalist who writes about a wide variety of topics. I do, however, object to her judge-bashing.