Jeff John Roberts
Washington Post

June 9, 2012

A U.S. judge yesterday threw aside a much-anticipated trial between Apple and Google-owned Motorola Mobility over smartphone patents. The decision and a blog comment by the same judge could prove to be a watershed moment for a U.S. patent system that has spiraled out of control.

In his remarkable ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner stated that there was no point in holding a trial because it was apparent that neither side could show they had been harmed by the other’s patent infringement. He said he was inclined to dismiss the case with prejudice — meaning the parties can’t come back to fight over the same patents — and that he would enter a more formal opinion confirming this next week.

The order is extraordinary not only for what it said but for who wrote it. For the unfamiliar, Richard Posner is a legend in legal and academic circles and possesses a resume that makes the typical Supreme Court Justice look like a slouch. He teaches at the University of Chicago and ordinarily sits on the influential 7th Circuit Court of Appeals but, in an unusual development, was assigned to a lower court last December to hear the Google-Apple patent case.

The case is just one of many patent disputes tying the legal system in knots as large companies tangle not only in court but at the International Trade Commission in an effort to ban each others’ products from the market. Critics say the patent system, which awards 20-year monopolies, has run amok thanks to a flood of questionable patents for software, business methods, emoticons and even one for “swinging on a swing.”

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