Stop the patent insanity -- now!

Patent battles between Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, and more are dragging down the tech industry. It's time to end the madness

Earlier, I confidently declared that 2011 would be the year of the hacker. I seem to be dead-on accurate with that one. But what I missed completely was another scourge that is in some ways worse: 2011 is also the year of patent insanity.

Now, I am not a patent and trademark attorney, a fact for which the American Bar Association is deeply grateful. I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of the patent process, and I appreciate the need to protect innovators and their inventions.

[ InfoWorld's Bill Snyder cites another effect of the patent war: the loss of tech jobs. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]

But really, enough is enough. We're in a patent bubble, and it's not being fueled by a desire to build life-enhancing products or protect the intellectual property of hard-working researchers. It's about lawyers filling their pockets and companies attempting to snuff out their competition via the courts of law instead of the market and/or grow fat on the efforts of others -- and it really has to stop.

Why did Google drop $12.5 billion on Motorola Mobility? Patents.

Why did Microsoft and Apple join forces with RIM and Sony to swallow the assets of Nortel? Patents.

Why did Google counter that by making a deal with IBM? You know the answer to that one.

It's not because these patents contain the secret to perpetual motion machines or toast that always falls butter side up. It's because they know they're going to get sued, and they need ammunition to sue the suers. It's called mutually assured destruction (MAD). It's the cold war all over again, only instead of the United States and the Soviets, it's Apple, Google, Microsoft, fill-in-the-blank; instead of pointing ICBMs at each other, they're aiming the USPTO.

Exhibit A: The Apple-Samsung suit in The Hague, growing more absurd by the moment.

A Dutch court just blocked the sale of Samsung Galaxy smartphones in Europe after determining that Samsung violated Apple's patent on a "portable electronic device for photo management."

Here's a snippet of the process for which Apple was granted a patent:

The computer program mechanism includes instructions, which when executed by a portable electronic device with a touch screen display, cause the device to: display an array of thumbnail images corresponding to a set of photographic images; detect a scrolling gesture comprising a substantially vertical movement of user contact with the touch screen display; and respond to the scrolling gesture by scrolling the display of thumbnail images in accordance with a direction of the scrolling gesture…

In other words: Display a row of small pictures and move them up or down when somebody swipes their finger across the screen.

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