If you’re not a patent aficionado, you have probably never heard the phrase “efficient infringement.” Not to blow the punch line, but it’s yet another example of how big tech companies use dubious means to squeeze their smaller rivals. When critics complain that Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are squashing innovation, this is the sort of tactic they’re talking about.
I first heard the phrase some years ago when I looked into a patent dispute between Apple Inc. and the University of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which owns the university’s patents, had sued Apple over its use of an innovation that university scientists had dreamed up and patented in the mid-2000s. Apple had installed it in iPhones and iPads without bothering to negotiate a license and had been using it with impunity for years before the case finally went to trial. A jury found for the foundation in 2015 and ordered Apple to pay $234 million.