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In wake of Apple v. Motorola, Judge Posner speaks: 'it's not clear that we really need patents in most industries'

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Judge Richard Posner, who recently dismissed Apple's patent suit against Motorola, spoke with Reuters about his stance on the patent system and how technology companies are using it.


When Richard Posner, a judge on the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, senior lecturer for the University of Chicago Law School, and author of dozens of books on jurisprudence and economics says that "it's not clear that we really need patents in most industries," that's a big deal. During his talk with Reuters, he spoke about his recent dismissal of the Apple v. Motorola case and his stance on patent law.

Posner doesn't blame these companies for trying to compete in the courtroom — he says they are simply using every available opportunity to secure dominance in an industry and maximize shareholder value. The problem arises when patent litigation ceases to benefit the consumer in any appreciable way. In the case of Apple v. Motorola, Apple's patent on a video streaming feature would have resulted in the entire phone being banned, but Posner insisted in his June 22nd order that Apple's patent "is not a claim to a monopoly of streaming video!" He likened the current competitive environment to a jungle, where "the animals will use all the means at their disposal, all their teeth and claws that are permitted by the ecosystem."

Posner's indecision over whether patents should be applied evenly throughout all industries stems from the varying costs associated with bringing a product to market. He defends the need for strong intellectual property laws in industries where research is costly, like in the instance of pharmaceutical companies, but questions whether technology firms should enjoy the same protection. Congress will have to decide whether one is more deserving than the other, but the ability to stymie a US product launch using patent litigation is an issue that certainly warrants discussion. During his talk with Reuters, Posner said that he wishes he could have seen the Apple v. Motorola trial all the way through, but added "I didn't think I could have a trial just for fun." With the injunction this week against Samsung's Galaxy Nexus making headlines, Posner's comments (and the topic as a whole) are perhaps more relevant and pressing than ever.