image of a woman holding a smartphone

image of a woman holding a smartphone

The trademark system has long served as a pinnacle component of our nation’s growth and development. In fact, the first trademark was issued to the Averill Chemical Paint company under the United States Trademark Act of 1870. Since then, private inventors and corporations alike have made it a point to claim ownership of their intellectual property, a stance that is near and dear to my law practice.

In today’s blog entry, I’ll be discussing why patenting intellectual property is an important developmental tradition to uphold and how doing so fuels national and global innovation.

An Example of Patented Intellectual Property in Action

Consider a popular commercial product that 68% of Americans own and use every day — the smartphone, more importantly, the iPhone by Apple Inc. When this product was introduced to the public, there was nothing quite like it. Thus, the CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, was clear about his stance on this invention:: “Boy, have we patented it!”

The audience chuckled to themselves at the comment.

Even then, it was clear why Apple would patent such a groundbreaking technology: Certainly Apple would not be willing to allow competitors to take their innovations in this space, replicate them and steal profits away from the iPhone! They could create a monopoly with such a scenario – another act of corporate greed.

But not really…

The Purpose of Patents

Patents serve several critical roles in the development and defense of intellectual property.

On one hand, they offer a way to protect this property from others interested in stealing the work, thus allowing the patent holder to continue to improve upon the patented design, in clear view of the public.

On the other hand, patents serve as a way to alert the industry that something exciting is happening in its sector, thus giving competitors the opportunity to begin working on similar technologies behind closed doors.

Using Patents as a Means of Intellectual Growth

That last paragraph is important, especially the portion about “working on similar technologies behind closed doors.” Consider why an organization would want to invest time, money and human resources to work on a project that is protected by a competitor.

Patents are designed with workaround exceptions. As long as a competitor can build a product that is similar to the patented product – meaning a product that is different enough that it doesn’t blatantly copy the original – then said product can legally go to market and even be patented itself.

Sticking with the theme of Apple and the iPhone, the aforementioned paragraph is exactly how Google’s Android smartphone platform came to exist. Following the unveiling of the iPhone, Google had to completely redesign Android’s interfaces – which at this point was still a non-public-facing project – to better align with Apple’s new platform. Instead of breaking the law by stealing Apple’s designs line for line, however, Android was released with a set of key differences that were significant enough to defy Apple’s patents in the name of technological progress.

Satisfying the Law While Expanding Innovation

Patented products and technologies have long served as a means to push innovation forward. With the consistent nature of preventing blatant copycatting, the only way for arch rivals, such as Apple and Google, to remain competitive is to continue the cycle of improving upon each other’s ideas. In this way, the patented technology remains uninfringed upon, yet individuals and corporations spanning a plethora of industries can legally continue to bring significant innovations to consumers everywhere.

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