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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1591

Patent War: is Synchronicity to blame?

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

patent.gifThe world may be sleepwalking towards the precipice of the much anticipated double-dip recession. However, on an intriguingly-positive note, hardly a week goes by without the news of a major lawsuit involving two rival technological companies these days, especially, if they are involved in making smartphones and tablet computers – implying a substantial growth, at least in this particular sector.

The pattern is all too familiar: Apple sues Samsung for patent infringement in Europe and Samsung, in turn, sues Apple in the US citing the same; HTC, the Taiwan-based computer firm, then, may sue Apple somewhere in the world and the former reciprocates the move as soon as practicable while defending vigorously the very lawsuit against it; there have been lawsuits filed by Apple against Nokia and vice versa in the past.

The patent war took a significantly-ugly turn last week, when Samsung Galaxy S2 – based on Google’s Android operating system – was banned in the EU due to a case filed by Apple, only to be overturned this week.

All the indications point out, that the battle for supremacy in the arena of smartphones and tablet computers, is only going to get more intense in the coming months. The market is alluringly-lucrative and defying the economic gloom that we see in every other sector. In this context, the acquisition of Motorola Mobility by Google for $12.5 billions does not come as a surprise; with that strategic move, Google secured the intellectual property rights of a stockpile of over 17,000 patents – the jewel of the crown.

It is no secret that healthy competition is always good for consumers. However, a competition of this kind cannot be classified as very healthy both for the major players involved and the consumers – in the long run. The worrying developments may disproportionately enrich the corporate lawyers – unfortunately, at the expense of the audacity to innovate.

The field of both smartphones and tablet computers received an exponential boost, when Apple introduced multi-touch screen technology. Up until then, everyone thought that the mobile phone technology had reached its peak, with manufacturers stuffing the devices with useless gadgets to show that the products were unique and new. While sensing the potential for a revolution, both Samsung and HTC started aggressively competing for the niche market, which ultimately resulted in quite a few court battles. The issue is far from over, though - with no clear winner in sight yet.

Legal eagles estimate that there is a possibility for over 250.000 potential lawsuits involving the various components of the surface of smarphones; If the tendency gets out of control, it not only deviates the companies involved from their core businesses but also inhibits the creativity in a big way.

So, it is bad news for a huge global audience of gadget enthusiasts; they just hope – and pray, as well – that sanity would break out inside the boardrooms of technological giants in the coming months.

The quarrel over intellectual property is not a new trend. It dates back to the 15th century; then an international dispute arose between Italy and England over a statue. Since then, nations have been taking the issue of intellectual property – IP – seriously while introducing strict laws to protect them in their respective lands.

One of the most notable conflicts over intellectual property in history was, the controversy surrounding the role played by Newton and Leibniz in discovering a major field in mathematics. Both Newton, the English scientist, and Leibniz, the German philosopher, wanted to claim to be the first to discover calculus; however, as it later turned out, both invented it simultaneously in the 17th century – and independently too – in the absence of reliable communications owing to the distance between the two countries and lack of technology.

History is awash with the instances of simultaneous discovery. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, who once famously said that he had been above Sri Lanka – then Ceylon – during one of his out-of-body travels, coined the term, Synchronicity, to shed light on the unique phenomenon. Mr Jung explained it by focussing on the ability of the like-minded to come into contact with, what he called ‘Collective Unconscious’ – the ultimate source of intelligence – to draw inspiration from for a potential breakthrough.

The statistics are absolutely amazing and speaking for themselves: the invention of transistor – both in America and two months later in Germany, independently – is one such case; the inkjet printer was invented both by Canon and Hewlett-Packard in Japan and the US respectively; the discovery of oxygen by Priestly in 1774, in England and by Scheele in Uppsala in 1773 is also a case of Synchronicity; colour photography, logarithms in mathematics and main ideas of evolution clearly show that simultaneous discovery by two or more individuals independently is real.

Ordinary folks can get an idea about this phenomenon by looking at how radios work. Radio waves are in circulation above our heads – and around us too – and if a signal is to be picked up, a radio must be tuned into a particular frequency. If one or more are tuned into to the same frequency, every single radio will be able to broadcast stuff from that particular station. The fact, known in physics as resonance, can be observed on many other occasions ranging from ear-piercing whistling to marching out-of-step by soldiers while crossing bridges.

If someone wants a more simplistic example, observe a bunch of teenagers who are head-over- heel in love with a single opposite soul – be it a humble mortal or an aspiring celebrity. Behaviour psychologists may say it is their chemistry which does the trick; on the contrary, it is physics which does the job by bringing about the attraction – resonance. In short, souls which are on the same wavelength, whether they are inventors, scientists, artists, musicians or just romantics, do attract similar things from a common source, while being subject to the laws of Synchronicity.

However, it is unrealistic to expect the appearance of the term Synchronicity in corporate Law books any time soon; such a scenario would simply make the mockery of the whole patent business.

However, there is ample evidence to support the fact that gifted individuals can come up with unique ideas at the same time in different corners of the world; it is undeniable. So, corporate bosses will have to allocate a substantial portion of their revenue for protecting their patents – and fight back if they are violated – because, the ability to keep Synchronicity at bay, is way beyond their control.

- Asian Tribune -

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