The Daily Gamecock

Legal battles over patents unhelpful for consumers

Apple and Samsung, two of the most popular smartphone manufacturers in the U.S., are currently engaged in a counterproductive legal battle. The fight stems from each company’s accusation that the other is infringing on its patents. This fight is particularly relevant to consumers given the swift growth in the smartphone industry during the past five years. Although it is entirely reasonable that each company wants to protect its innovation and research, the methods they use to do so are worthy of closer scrutiny.

The authority to regulate U.S. imports and exports rests, among others, with the International Trade Commission, or ITC for short. The agency does not have the last say in the U.S., however, as that authority rests with President Obama, who in August vetoed a ban that Samsung had won against Apple on importing the iPhone 4 and various iPad models.

On the surface, strict enforcement of patent laws keeps companies honest; however, under the current system, it does the opposite. Instead of making the marketplace more fair, it prevents competition and limits the choices available to consumers. By using the legal system, Samsung and Apple can effectively stop sales of their competition’s devices by arguing that they copy their designs. This system is unfair as it gives large corporations undue amounts of power to regulate commerce. Corporations should not be given the power to regulate each other, as there is an enormous conflict of interest involved, and the incentives for being honest are scarce.

Unlike other types of property, such as buildings and automobiles, ideas and designs are not physically tangible. This means that it is very possible, and even likely, that multiple people can claim the same design or idea, without even knowing about the other’s existence. This was seen in the seventeenth century, when both Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz were credited by different people for inventing calculus. Had there been restrictions on such intellectual property at the time, the world might not have benefited from the revolutionary new form of mathematics.

Smartphones are no different, and without the competition of both Apple and Samsung, the marketplace would look quite bleak. Because of this, intellectual property laws should be reformed, giving more companies more flexibility in designing new smartphones, and allowing existing models to continue to be sold without threat of lawsuit. Doing so would add a new dimension to an already competitive smartphone market.