07.03.12

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Corporate Press Defends, Denounces Software Patents

Posted in Patents at 1:11 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Mainstream media coverage of the patent issues

Morning coffee

Summary: Articles from April and May talk about the role of patents, in particular ones covering software

THE “social networking patent” which many people spoke about and feared has finally been invalided, but there are many more just like it. There are also, as the Guardian put it several weeks ago, notorious patents that “threaten web freedoms” because of abstract matters they claim to cover. Uniloc, a company-turned-troll, speaks out in favour of patents and there was propaganda to say startups need patents [1, 2, 3] just a couple of months ago. Here it is in a worse form. When one reads those articles it seems clearer that the patent system needs to change, but at the same time it is evident that the problem runs very deep. It will not be resolved overnight.

The corporate press gets the guts to sometimes criticise patents but meanwhile refer to “patent wars” as “The curse of innovation” as if patents are necessarily innovations. To quote:

Patent wars plague Internet Age, add ‘innovation tax’

The Internet Age is becoming as known for patent litigation as it is for online innovation, but some tech entrepreneurs believe patent spats are damaging the industry.

From the makers of computer chips to creators of smartphones and designers of videogames, rivalries have spread from marketplaces to courtrooms with combatants warring over rights to use technology.

The Washington Post published this opinion piece which calls for the elimination of all software patents:

Let’s ditch software patents

Our lives are cluttered with unnecessary traditions, ideas and institutions. Warm weather came early this year, but there’s still time for a good spring cleaning. After purging old receipts, broken appliances and unloved outfits, what else should we toss? Outlook asked 10 writers what they thought we’d be better off without. From the Cabinet to premium gas to chick flicks, here are their picks.

The Financial Times stayed more conservative with headlines such as “Reserve software patentability for clear inventions” and “Too vague patents created the monster”.

Donald J. Trump Jr. wrote about “Defending innovation in America”, referring to the downgrade of patents. “Let me introduce you,” he wrote, “to the digital world’s latest hobgoblin: the patent troll. Kin to the cybersquatter, trolls are entities that hoard software patents with the sole intention of leveraging them in court for a quick payday. What is troubling about these entities is that they manipulate and abuse the spirit of the patent protection system by masquerading circumvention and other ancillary matters as true innovation. Undoubtedly there is a proper context for patent protection and litigation which protects true innovation, however these trolls produce nothing but headaches, and can unfortunately bring business to a grinding halt. In recent months, an angry storm has swept through the tech world over these gremlins. The vitriol doesn’t surprise me; as a longtime champion of hard work and building value, I share it. But I was surprised when a company that I have supported, MacroSolve, was unexpectedly thrust into the role of standard-bearer for patent defense, and suddenly found itself caught in the crossfire of the patent wars.”

Over at NPR there was a reference to the sheer number of patents:

Another Ridiculous Number From The Patent Wars

[...]

The ridiculous number of new patents means that, even if a software company wanted to figure out whether it was infringing on any patents, it would be impossible to do so.

Dana Blankenhorn mentioned this number as well, over at The street:

At the heart of the problem is money. The patent office is understaffed and overworked, says Gregory Aharonian, whose Web site is called BustPatents.com. It can cost hundreds of thousands to research a single software patent and there are 40,000 new ones approved each year.

Another noteworthy recent piece calls patent abusers “gangsters”. To quote:

The gangsters of Silicon Valley

President Obama has been touting patents as a way to create jobs and increase U.S. competitiveness. “These are jobs and businesses of the future just waiting to be created,” he said of patent applications last September, “somewhere in that stack of applications could be the next technological breakthrough, the next miracle drug, the next idea that will launch the next Fortune 500 company.”

The President is mistaken — at least when it comes to the patent system as it relates to software patents. These patents — and the patent system — aren’t creating innovation, they are inhibiting it and, by extension, job creation. Why? Because the breakthroughs aren’t in the patents, they are in the way ideas are commercialized and marketed. Because of flaws in the patent system and government leaders’ misunderstandings, there is an arms race of sorts happening in the tech industry that is sapping billions out of the economy and crushing technology startups. This system is enriching patent trolls — companies that buy patents in order to extort money from innovators. These trolls are like a modern day mafia. Given this, I argue software patents need to be eliminated or curtailed.

Lastly, the matter of innovation and software patents was raised and debated here:

Do Software Patents Stifle Innovation?

[...]
This is only the tip of the iceberg. This diagram from Reuters shows the complex battlefield of mobile patent and significant portion of these patents are for software.

Patents lead to litigation, not innovation. This is by definition what they do. We lost sight of the original purpose of patents. It is refreshing to see large Web site pointing this out; it gives hope that something will change. Our continued observation of headlines about patents (for over 5 years now) suggests that the public is starting to really ‘get’ it.

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