Late Friday Apple filed a pair of lawsuits against Motorola, claiming its Android phones violate six important patents, demanding the products be pulled from the shelves, their profits be given to Apple, and that treble damages and attorney fees be awarded.
If the courts agree such a result would destroy Motorola.
All of which means that the very concept of competition within the smart phone marketplace is now before the courts.
Not all the patents being asserted are software patents. One of Apple's cases relates directly to its multi-touch hardware, and how it tracks movements.
But taken together these and the other cases filed against Android in the last few months do beg the question. Is computing competition even legal?
Since the non-decision in Bilski, computer companies have had an open season to file broad patent claims against one another. According to the Roberts court the very concept of mobile e-mail is patented, syncing e-mail is patented, multi-touch is patented, every single computing advance of the last decade is patented.
From a policy perspective this means there can be only one solution to every problem. Software does not work that way. Software asserts many solutions to any problem. Take a look at any application on your PC right now. There are always many different ways of going about a task. And inside the code the situation is the same.
Patents, as I wrote the other day, should cover how things are done, not the act of doing them. They should be about how NTP does mobile e-mail, how Microsoft syncs it, and how Apple implements a multi-touch interface.
If we don't have a way to innovate around patents then patents destroy innovation. Patents are by their nature monopolies, granted on limited terms for limited times. Today those terms are overly broad, and those times are longer than the expected life of any market.
The whole situation has grown so absurd it may be a good thing our political parties have gridlocked judicial nominations for so long that justice can't be done. Because in this case any justice would be a grave injustice.