Last week, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) got its clock cleaned by Swiss Federal Railways. The release of the iPhone 5 came with a lot of changes, including the design of the phone's timepiece. With striking similarity to the Swiss Federal Railways' station clocks, the company contacted Apple to let them know that the design was created (and trademarked) by the rail company in 1944.

Subsequently, Apple announced last Friday that it will pay a licensing fee to the rail company for the continued use of its design. The exact details will remain confidential, but this most recent patent piddle points to a larger trend in the technology sector.

With proponents and critics on both sides, the fundamental question remains: At what point to do patents stop supporting innovation and start preventing it instead? Fool contributor Justin Loiseau reports from Geneva, Switzerland.

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