01.09.09

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Patents Roundup: Food for Thought

Posted in America, Bill Gates, Intellectual Monopoly, Law, Patents at 8:08 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

AS WE HASTILY ACCUMULATE AND ORGANISE antitrust material (almost toiling), we find ourselves unable to keep up with the news, but here are some read-worthy items on intellectual monopolies, without particular emphasis on just software.

Philosophy

It is heartening to find more and more critics of our intellectual property regime, partly as a result of growing knowledge but more importantly, the growing critical reaction to the extreme excesses of the application of the law. A new voice for me is that of Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. whose book, THE CONSERVATIVE NANNY STATE; How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer, is available for download on line link here under a Creative Commons license. The book is about much more than IP, as the subtitle indicates, but this review focuses on the IP issues Baker covers. He calls the chapter, “Bill Gates Welfare Mom: How Government Patent and Copyright Monopolies Enrich the Rich and Distort the Economy”.

He begins by examining the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, and Microsoft, noting that it was not Gates hard work or brilliance, or the superiority of his software, but his government provided monopoly based on IP law that made him today’s Croesus.

An anonymous reader called our attention to a comment reposting some fantastic thinking on the dangerous trend of believing we can own, sell or steal ideas.

Light at the end of the tunnel: Will tough times bring on boom times for patent acquirers?

That’s what Joff Wild concludes in another article on this subject. Here’s the equation: Recession equals (patent-owning) companies going out of business equals auctioning off of these assets as companies try to raise cash to pay creditors equals more opportunities to acquire patents (both from bankruptcies and solvent companies that want to raise cash).

While this may be a patent troll/NPE’s (Non-Practicing Entity) modus operandi for building up a portfolio, any company that develops and sells products, seeks new technologies, and is willing to spend cash can do the same. According to Wild, it’s a great way to save R&D time and money.

Yes, tough times can sink a business. But just like in any other enterprise, IP investors can look for the silver lining – opportunities to turn financial turmoil to financial success.

Patent Trolling

Things are not helped by a Commission that often seems to hold contradictory views on IP (although Commissioners are set t be replaced in June 2009). What could change things is if European leaders get the bit between their teeth, as the seemed to in 2007. With so many other things to worry about, however, you have to wonder whether there will be time for patents in 2009.

[I]t does look like the Federal Circuit is at least somewhat paying attention to this issue, and recently transferred a patent infringement lawsuit out of Marshall, Texas, to Ohio, after noting that Ohio was “far more convenient.”

Reform Needed

While it’s taken quite some time, the EFF has had considerable success with its project to bust ten awful patents. The latest is that the USPTO has agreed to re-examine a patent from Seer Systems involving online music.

“Patent busting is a waste of time: even when successful, it takes too long [...] Need root and branch reform, not rollback,” writes Glyn Moody. The same goes for Linux Defenders [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6].

More about the case which we covered 2 days ago:

The last two years have seen plenty of patent litigation among storage companies, including a battle between Sun Microsystems and NetApp Inc. that is still ongoing. However, other patent lawsuits that have made a splash in the storage industry, such as Quantum’s suit against Riverbed, have been settled out of court or otherwise fizzled like this one. In the Sun case, at least one of the patents cited by NetApp in suing Sun has been taken off the table by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office due to similar enforcement issues. So far the lawsuits are looking like key talking points for those who argue the patent system in general badly needs reform.

Overall, it’s still a problematic situation.

“They [EPO examiners] claim that the organisation
is decentralising and focusing on granting as many patents
as possible to gain financially from fees generated.”

—Expatica, European Patent Office staff on strike

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