Apple and Samsung have spent seven years battling through the US courts in a series of patent infringement cases relating to smartphone features. They have taken their dispute all the way to the US Supreme Court. The total amount of damages awarded along the way has been eye-watering.

It was announced yesterday that the two parties have finally reached a settlement.

In my experience, when a patent owner is disgruntled by what they perceive to be the infringing activities of a competitor, all too often their immediate desire is for a court judgement that upholds every nuance of their position and crushes the competitor. I suspect this derives from an innate human desire for justice.

But seven years of court battles and appeals is a very expensive exercise and it is rarely the case that the final conclusion is completely black and white.

Often I find myself trying to educate clients that patents provide so much more than a licence to sue competitors. Patents are not only a narrow legal tool but also a much broader commercial one. When the stakes are high, court action may well be appropriate. But patents are also a 'flag in the sand', a 'keep off the grass' sign, a validation of innovative activity, evidence of underlying value and, when disputes arise, they are a powerful negotiating tool. And, in my experience, negotiating often results in a quicker, better and less expensive result, and at much lower risk. 

I wonder where Apple and Samsung would be now if they had reached their truce a few years sooner.