Apple, HTC Patent Battle Could Stifle Innovation

Apple filed a lawsuit and ITC complaint against smartphone maker HTC for iPhone-related patent violations on Monday, and some legal experts think the move could ultimately hamper innovation instead of protecting it, according to the New York Times.

"It's a bad scene right now," said Eric Von Hippel, professor of technological innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management. "The social value of patents was supposed to be to encourage innovation -- that's what society gets out of it."

One potential outcome, although unlikely, is that the courts could order HTC to disable certain features in its smartphones, such as the multitouch features Google recently added to its Android platform. A similar situation arose in 2004 when a court ordered EchoStar to remotely kill features in its DVR products because they infringed on TiVo-owned technology.

What's more likely, however, is that Apple, HTC, and ultimately Google, will reach an agreement outside of the courtroom -- and before that happens, Google and HTC are likely to file counter suits against Apple. Considering that cases like this can draw out for ten years, there'll be plenty of time for all of the sides to come to an agreement away from the judge's bench.

In the end it may be customers that feel the brunt of patent-related legal battles like this. Companies could start seeing the risk associated with innovation as too high and give up on pursuing their own ideas, or they could see cost of defending their ideas and products as too expensive.

"The net effect is that they decrease innovation, and in the end, the public loses out," Mr. Von Hippel said.