Authors of ‘The Knockoff Economy' says iPhone maker itself copycat of a sort
By Kim Yoo-chul
UCLA law professor Kal Raustiala, left, and NYU law professor Christopher Jon Sprigman, coauthor the best-selling book, "The Knockoff Economy."
Two authors of the bestselling book, "The Knockoff Economy," say that the jury's billion-dollar verdict against Samsung Electronics in a patent suit filed by Apple was "mostly wrong."
"We don't think Apple — or anyone else — should own the rectangle shape of a phone or tablet," Christopher Jon Sprigman and Kal Raustiala said in a recent written interview.
"We think that patents that cover those shapes should never have been granted in the first place," they said. "Some of the other Apple patents in that litigation seem to us similarly weak."
Sprigman is a law professor at the New York University, while Raustiala is a professor at both UCLA School of Law and the International Institute.
"Samsung is a great example as innovation through ‘tweaking,'" they said. "Some of Samsung's most popular smartphones, for example, copied but then arguably improved upon the design of Apple's iPhone."
The professors said Apple also improved and enhanced its products by adapting ideas and innovations.
"The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously visited the Xerox-Parc research facility, saw a very crude mouse and graphic computer screen, and reworked that into a better product that truly resonated with consumers. Refining and improving requires some degree of copying. There is nothing unusual about this — true innovation is often incremental."
But they declined to comment on how the patent battle will unfold down the road but added, "They are two world-class firms that have a very complicated and even symbiotic relationship. We wouldn't try to predict the future of that relationship."
The professors said that the "knockoff economy" is also a good source of energy to boost innovation, foster competition, grow markets and assist in building brands.
"Copying has both destructive and productive elements. The book stresses that copying is too often made into a villain. Many industries from cuisine to apparel to fonts to software survive and even thrive in the face of extensive copying," they said.
Raustiala, who is one of the top intellectual property experts in the United States, made the point that the book was a response to the conventional wisdom about the relationship between creativity and copying.
"Most people simply assume that copying kills creativity. Why would someone spend their time and money creating or inventing if others are simply free to copy? And this simple belief, copying kills creativity, is the basis of our intellectual property (IP) laws," Raustiala said.
"IP laws exist to stop, or at least to limit, copying. In our view, the conventional wisdom is wrong. Or, at least, it's far too simple. We see important creative industries in which copying and creativity seem to get along quite nicely," he stressed.
Sprigman, co-director at Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy at the New York University, echoed the view, saying that the book looked at a group of industries — fashion, food, stand-up comedy, financial services, open source software and others —examined each of these industries and told the story of how they work and how they mix copying and creativity.
"We believe that IP rights are essential in a contemporary economy. Some industries, IP rights are not really necessary at all," said professor Raustiala.
According to his observation there is no protection for fashion designs in the United States. Firms like ‘Forever 21' — begun by Korean immigrants to Los Angeles — have been very successful at knocking off others' designs.
"But what is really interesting is that all this copying has not killed creativity in the apparel industry," the UCLA patent scholar added.