Samsung: "We Stink." Apple: "No, You Don't."

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I find it funny how legal disputes can turn global giants into squabbling children. The latest example comes from the evergreen disputes between Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) and Samsung. The mobile titans are jockeying for position in a Dutch patent dispute, and I'd imagine that the exchange went something like this:

Samsung: Your honor, there's no way we could infringe on Apple's touchscreen patents because our multitouch solution for Android phones really stinks.

Apple: Oh, no, Samsung's interface is clearly just as sophisticated as ours, and there's no way they could have invented that on their own!

In short, Samsung downplays the quality of its own technology while Apple insists that it's just as good as Cupertino's. Apple wants to ban Samsung's smartphones and tablets from sale in the Netherlands, and Sammy takes every available legal avenue to avoid that grim fate.

European courts have a tendency to refer to each others' patent rulings, so the outcome here could have cascading effects in larger markets like Germany, France, and the U.K. The Netherlands holds a special place in Samsung's heart, since the South Korean company's European import center rests on Dutch soil, giving this case even more weight.

So Samsung underscores how much harder it is to write apps around its multitouch solution, while Apple spotlights how similar the end results really are. "They suggest that they have a lesser solution, but that is simply not true," Apple lawyers argued to the panel of four Dutch judges.

This childish argument only highlights how inadequate the current idea of technology patents really is. It's not just an American problem, but a global one. The legal status of brand-new inventions and tiny incremental evolutions alike often hinge on word choices in patent filings. The whole system relies more on semantics than on innovation.

And by the time the lawyers settle their differences, the real world has moved on. Apple may indeed get Samsung's current batch of Galaxy devices banned across Europe -- but by then, the Koreans will have another version ready for sale. And the whole cycle starts over again.

Lather, rinse, repeat, and don't forget to pay your lawyer. It's hard to see how this process actually benefits Apple, Samsung, inventors, investors, or society at large. Patents do add value in some industries, but the technology sector just moves too fast for the lazy wheels of patent law to keep up.

But hey, at least we get to laugh at the logical pretzels people bend themselves into along the way.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies mentioned. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 10, 2012, at 8:33 PM, lrd555 wrote:

    Samsung's reputation for stealing other's IP is so blatant I'm surprised countries having banned their products altogether. @ some time someone's got to stand up and stand for something.

  • Report this Comment On September 10, 2012, at 11:52 PM, st0815 wrote:

    Actual inventors always get screwed by the patent system. Essentially it's just a means of companies trying to claim ownership of the contents of their employees heads, instead of paying for the work done.

    It's far to expensive for an engineer to file a patent himself and - assuming it actually becomes commercially interesting - to defend it in court. On top of that an engineer will not be able to make a product of his own design now, because every trivial idea has been patented, so unless he already has hundreds of patents he can't survive the legal attacks of bigger companies.

    Patent law has historically always been to the detriment of innovation - like holding back improvements of the steam engine or stopping airplane development in the US following the patents of the Wright brothers. (Look it up, you don't need to take my word for it.)

    Software patents should never have been allowed, and by now the patent process as a whole has become so pathetic that scrapping it is the only way forward.

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