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Tim Cook: Standards-essential patent system is 'broken'

Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive officer, said on Tuesday that the system for enforcing standards-essential patents is "broken" and that patent disputes with other companies are a "pain in the ass" that he wishes didn't exist.

D10 co-host Kara Swisher asked Cook during an interview whether the current patent situation is a problem for innovation. "Well it's a pain in the ass," he said.

However, the executive said he was unwilling to let Apple's work be copied by others. He compared patent infringement to signing one's name on a painting that someone else put energy into finishing. Cook stressed the importance of companies building their own stuff so that Apple would not be "the developer for the rest of the world."

When All Things D's Walt Mossberg pointed out that Apple, for its part, has been accused of violating others' patents and is on the receiving end of a number of lawsuits, Cook pointed out a difference. “The vast majority of those are on standards-essential patents,” he said, adding that it's an area where today's patent system is "broken."

The CEO pointed to connecting to a 3G network as an example of a standards-essential patent that companies shouldn't be able to get injunctions on. In Cook's view, the owner of the patent has the responsibility of getting fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) licensing.

Cook asserted that Apple does not sue others over its own standards-essential patents because it believes doing so is "fundamentally wrong." Companies are bound to disagree on the specifics of payment for SEPs, Cook said, but he highlighted an industry problem that the sum of patent holders' requests for compensation would push everyone out of business. Though Apple remains intent on continuing to innovate in spite of the current patent climate, Cook said the situation is an "overhead" that he wishes didn't exist.

Cook declined to discuss other companies' work, but he did say that he loves Apple's "painting," alluding to his earlier analogy for innovation. The executive added that he's "passionate" about the topic of patents and hopes regulators will fix the system.

Apple is actively involved in legal action against a number of its largest competitors, including Samsung, HTC and Motorola. Cook recently met with Samsung CEO Choi Gee-sung for court-mandated settlement talks, but the two executives were unable to come to an agreement. In April, Cook expressed that he would "highly prefer" to settle Apple's disagreements, but he also voiced a commitment to defend his company's inventions.

Visit AppleInsider's D10 archive for more of Cook's comments and ongoing coverage of the conference.