It’s Not Just About Phones- It’s About Ideas, by Todd R. Dobry

Not many people were surprised when Apple and Samsung, two international tech giants, began their second round of patent litigation in California courts. In Apple’s latest suit against Samsung for allegedly copying the designs and features of its iPhone, Apple is seeking a reported two billion dollars, roughly $40 per device. This new amount is five times more than amount of damages Apple sought in its previous suit.

On the surface this “patent war” may seem like nothing more than corporate giants going toe to toe in a courtroom in an attempt to impede the other’s ability to compete for a consumer’s cash. However, the battle between these giants is more than which company can be allowed to have rounded edges on its devices or a “pinch” zoom feature. It’s about ideas- innovation, which company had the idea first, who acted on it first and because they were first, gets the sole right to sell the idea to the public.

The essence of this suit transcends the highly technical and multi-billion dollar limelight. Entrepreneurs and small business owners throughout Florida have their own ideas and act upon them just as any multinational corporation would. An entrepreneur may drive by a newly developed plaza and think it’s the perfect spot to open a deli and sell its signature brisket sandwiches, or the perfect place to open a boutique, a tax service, a medical office, a computer repair facility…the list is endless. When entrepreneurs, now business owners, begin executing their “idea” and turn it into a business reality they often enter into exclusivity agreements or include one in their lease agreements (and if they don’t, they should) which grant them sole right to own/operate their idea in their respective plaza, building, or mall; just as a patent permits its owner sole right to build, market, and sell that product.

While these exclusivity agreements may seem self-explanatory and “iron-clad,” business owners frequently find a similar business open up shop in the same area they once thought they had exclusive rights to: i.e. a barbeque shop that sells brisket sandwiches; a boutique opens that sells clothes and shoes where yours sells clothes and hats. Differences between the businesses may seem either negligible or gigantic depending on who is looking, just as the differences between an iPhone and Samsung Galaxy may seem irrelevant or worth two billion dollars.

Regardless of other differences between your initial idea and the newcomer’s business, if they share similarities, the fact remains that you had an idea, acted on your idea, contracted for the right to solely own that idea and have a right to enforce that agreement. Business owners have come to the firm with similar situations, and while they may not hold patents on the perfect deli sandwich or be the first CPA/doctor to offer services to the public, they had contracted for the right to be the sole proprietor of sandwiches or service provider etc… and while their damages may not match Apple’s two billion dollar valuation, it does not by any measure mean the stakes are just as high for the business owner.