No truce expected in global patent wars

Sep 11, 2011 by Chris Lefkow

Patent reform legislation passed by the US Congress may represent the most sweeping changes to the law in decades but the bill is not expected to end the courtroom wrangling between technology giants.

"My feeling is that it won't change the dynamics much of the ongoing patent wars," said Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates. "The problem is with patents in general, in that there's way too much patenting and people patent any old thing including how to toast bread."

Ed Black, president and chief executive of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), said the bill, the America Invents Act, "doesn't effectively address the real serious problems of our patent system.

"The bill tinkers in various ways -- some things are good, some things are bad -- but it's not a gamechanger," Black said, agreeing with Kay that the main problem is "too many patents issued that are simply not high-quality patents."

Black noted that the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced recently that it has issued its eight millionth patent.

"Most people think of patents as being like Edison and the light bulb," he said. "Tell me we've had eight million game-changing ideas."

The Senate passed the America Invents Act on Thursday by an 89-9 vote. It cleared the House of Representatives earlier this year by a similarly lopsided 304-117 margin.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, a key author of the legislation, said the bill will "ensure that inventors large and small maintain the competitive edge that has put America at the pinnacle of global innovation."

The legislation notably shifts the granting of US patents from a "first to invent" system, which left considerable leeway for interpretation, to a "first to file" basis and seeks to reduce a backlog of 750,000 applications.

Another goal is to curb costly litigation but technology industry analysts tend not to see that happening anytime soon.

Patent lawsuits are a frequent occurence among smartphone and tablet computer makers in particular and the world's best known brands are ensnared in a complex web of legal claims spanning the globe.

Just a day after the passage of the bill, Apple managed to get a German court to ban South Korea's Samsung from selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet computer in Germany, ruling it had copied the iPad.

Apple recently settled a patent dispute with Finland's Nokia by entering into a licensing agreement and is embroiled in a series of suits and counter-suits with Taiwan's HTC, which accuses the California company of violating HTC-held patents in its Macintosh computers, iPods, iPhones, iPads and other products.

Google, meanwhile, is being sued by US business software giant Oracle over technology used in its Android mobile operating system and said earlier this year that Android is the target of a "hostile, organized campaign" by Apple, Microsoft and Oracle being waged with "bogus patents."

Last month, Google purchased US handset maker Motorola Mobility -- and its portfolio of 17,000 patents -- for $12.5 billion in a move chief executive Larry Page said was partly intended to "better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies."

Independent technology analyst Carmi Levy said the patent reform bill is the "best step the US government has taken toward cleaning up the USPTO backlog (and) eliminating frivolous, competition-killing lawsuits and litigation."

"But it's only the first," Levy said. "It would be naive of us to assume that the effects of decades of woefully obsolete patent law will suddenly vanish as US businesses seamlessly transition into the new regime.

"Expect these existing cases to continue to play out unchanged while the lawyers continue to happily collect their fees," he said.

Black said the proliferation of software patents has led to an "unnecessary arms race."

"But it's an arms race that you almost have to participate in," he said. "It's also an arms race that inherently disadvantages new entrants, small dynamic companies.

"The most innovative new entrants wind up immediately facing a barrage of legal intimidation, lawsuits, threats," the CCIA president said.

Endpoint Technologies Associates' Kay said consideration should be given to doing away with software patents altogether.

"People any old thing and they repatent things that are already patented," he said. "Really we should be going 180 degrees in the other direction and saying 'How about no patents for software?'"

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User comments : 17

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frajo
not rated yet Sep 11, 2011
Just a day after the passage of the bill, Apple managed to get a German court to ban South Korea's Samsung from selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet computer in Germany, ruling it had copied the iPad.

Yes, but "While Samsung Germany may no longer sell or advertise the Galaxy Tab 10.1, this ban does not cover anybody else. So, retailers will still be able to sell the device - including purchasing new stock from other Samsung branches."
See osnews.com/story/25152/
German_Retailers_Can_Continue_To_Sell_Restock_Galaxy_Tab_10_1 .
Urgelt
5 / 5 (2) Sep 11, 2011
Patents were *supposed* to encourage innovation. Instead, they stifle it.

Prior art is being ignored. Patents are being issued on genes that exist in nature and have for thousands or even millions of years. Patents are being issued on gestures! On rectangular display devices with rounded edges! It's gone beyond ludicrous.

Just as stupid, the Government grants patents (which are really just government-granted monopolies) and then fails to regulate prices, as if monopolies were the best thing that could happen to an economy.

If you want to kick-start innovation, the way to do it is to end the patent system and let the market sort out who makes products people want to buy. Let human ideas flow freely, and the economy will accelerate.
maccaroo
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 11, 2011
The idea of a patent is idiotic. People should be allowed to come up with an idea and implement it (for profit, if necessary), regardless of whether someone else has thought of it before them. Technology (the use of ideas) should be where it counts, not patents (the hoarding of ideas).
gopher65
4 / 5 (6) Sep 11, 2011
maccaroo: that line of reasoning ignores the fact that it isn't uncommon for it to take billions of dollars of R&D to take an idea from someone's head and turn it into a workable product ready to be mass produced (creating everything from the product itself to new manufacturing techniques).

What you suggest would lead to a situation where one forward looking company or individual spends billions developing a game changing product, only for it to be swiped out from under them by their competitors, none of whom have spent a dime. Patents are designed to keep such theft from happening (for a period of 15 years) in order to give the inventor and developer of a good idea time to recoup their investment, and make a tidy profit on top of that.

What would you propose to keep that type of thing from happening? Obviously the current patent system is stupid, but personally I can't think of a good replacement for it. Tweeks to the current system yes, but replacement? No.
bsummey
4.5 / 5 (2) Sep 11, 2011
This comment board is riddled with people who have no idea what a patent even is...First of all patents last 20 years from date of file, not 15 years. The problem is how there is such a huge discrepancy between examiners as to what is novel. It is far to easy these days to change the color of a pencil to green and patent it different from the yellow ones. Patents are hugely valuable to everyone because as stated above, how can a company justify spending billions on a new widget, say cure for AIDS, and not expect to recoup any of that investment, because everyone and their grandmothers can make it in their basement for sale.
maccaroo
2.3 / 5 (4) Sep 11, 2011
@gopher65, I see what you're trying to say, but the basic premise of your argument is flawed. Knowledge should be shared - Think of the reasoning behind freedom of information and ideas such as open source.

Ideas should not be 'owned', since that too easily results in a greedy outlook where larger organisations employ people solely to 'come up' with ideas they can stop others from using.

Sure, R&D can be expensive, but there are at least 2 arguments against patents there:

Firstly, the inventors can keep it to themselves until they have a working product. You'll say competitors will use reverse engineering to find out how it was done, but that takes time and understanding.

Secondly, ideas which can help humankind (think medicine) are being forced through a funnel of greed before they can be used where they matter. For instance, there are people all over the world who need cheap, life saving drugs...

Take a lesson from the rugby world cup buddy - Use it or lose it.
maccaroo
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 11, 2011
...how can a company justify spending billions on a new widget, say cure for AIDS, and not expect to recoup any of that investment...


This is exactly what I mean. If you discovered a cure today for all the worlds diseases, you'd be happy to watch those people die slowly as you negotiate a better price.

Btw, most AIDS victims will NEVER be able to pay you back!
LivaN
5 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2011
bsummey
how can a company justify spending billions on a new widget, say cure for AIDS, and not expect to recoup any of that investment, because everyone and their grandmothers can make it in their basement for sale.


How can the vast majority of people suffering from AIDS be denied life saving treatment because they cannot afford it? It's at this point where profits become more important than lives. Not only that, but the idea is now off limits, meaning any other body that discovers the cure independetly still cannot use it.

A counter argument could be, without profits the cure wouldn't exist in the first place. To this I say, surely there are better ways of meeting those profits? Maybe a global taxation, and for those idea that are deemed revolutionary or life saving, the global taxation buys the rights for all humanity?
Deesky
5 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2011
A counter argument could be, without profits the cure wouldn't exist in the first place. To this I say, surely there are better ways of meeting those profits? Maybe a global taxation, and for those idea that are deemed revolutionary or life saving, the global taxation buys the rights for all humanity?

And how many of these global taxes would you have? Hundreds? Thousands? Idealistic, but unworkable.
denijane
5 / 5 (3) Sep 12, 2011
This system is doomed. The sooner the officials realise it, the better. Because this is only the beginning of the patent war. What do you think Google will do with their 12 billions worth patents? Keep them safe and warm? Or all the other recent patent deals. There's gonna be a war and the users/customers are the ones who will pay for it.
Sure, the idea of patents is good - to protect the inventors, to make sure if you invest in something, you will earn from it. But in what research exactly did any of those huge companies invested in when BUYING patents from other companies? Nothing. How this helps inventors or invention as a whole - it doesn't. It's preventive act against patent trolls! And in current dynamical world, 20 years of patents is ridiculous. No current IT product is sold for more than 10 years (or even 5) as it is. Then the patents lasting so long are obsolete and they actually stifle innovation. Because as the guy in the article said it - everything gets patented.
Nanobanano
4.5 / 5 (2) Sep 12, 2011
I despise the existing patent system, especially in the realm of medicine.

The case in Germany is ridiculous. If apple won that case, then any clothing designer could get two patents: "a shirt with round edges" a "shirt with square edges," and pretty much put everyone out of business.

Think about it,what are tablet and smart phone designers going to do now? Since apple owns the rights of rounded edges, will other designers be required to make theirs angular? Will we see smart phones with 3 round edges and one square? Since they aren't allowed to have 4 round edges?

This is complete madness, and it simply shows how evil the entire system of capitalism has become in all countries, not just America.

I take it there's only one company selling round shovels in Germany?

And when it comes to computers, they aren't hurting for profits. Intell made 25% profits as a part of revenues, even after investing another 25% of revenues in the next decade of facilities...cont...
Nanobanano
5 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2011
Intel will probably make as much as 50% profit compared to revenues each year for the next several years, and they already KNOW how to make the circuits they will be using in computers 10 years from now, they just make the intermediate steps and release the technology gradually to maximize their profits. The R&D costs have been absolute minimum compared profits. The technology companies are even getting much of their research done for free through universities in materials sciences, often on hundred-thousand or million dollar budgets, not the "billions" idiots on here claim.

For a billion dollars you could re-design a MULTIPLE MODELS of modern spacecraft with the maximum technology, and for a few billion, you can actually build them and fly them to the space station.

People on here don't know what the hell a billion is.

It doesn't take a billion dollars to design a computer. Steve Jobs built them in his garage. We've come a long way, but it's mostly the same thing miniaturized
Nanobanano
not rated yet Sep 12, 2011
With regards to my comment on how a few billion could get you from concept to the space station, don't cite useless numbers on the cost of the space shuttle.

The space shuttle was always an over-built, terribly inefficient waste of money which made absolutely no sense as neither a cargo or module lifter vehicle nor as a human transport vehicle. It was a complete failure from concept to retirement, and increased the cost of transport by probably ten-fold vs simple capsules or direct module launch (think Cassini and other large space probes in a capsule on the end of a rocket, which they did a few times).

Anyway, sorry it's a bit irrelevant, but you know me, gotta fully explain myself.

Anyway, the shuttle was a joke because it was overly complicated, which caused multiple disasters and maintenance and saftey concerns, AND it was overly massive, which wasted most of the fuel cost in moving the vehicle itself, instead of the cargo, and so on.

High schoolers could do better.
Ricochet
not rated yet Sep 12, 2011
I think one of the major problems is the people that work for the patent office... Take a look at the people that work in most government offices... The DMV, Tax Office, etc.. Think about their attitudes and how they operate within that office. I can't imagine the people working in the Patent Office are much different. In fact, after talking with a few of them, I firmly believe it to be true.
Nanobanano
not rated yet Sep 12, 2011
People patent any old thing and they repatent things that are already patented," he said. "Really we should be going 180 degrees in the other direction and saying 'How about no patents for software?


Yep.

I wish the patents would at least be cut down to a more reasonable number, like 7 years.

I also said in the past that I think companies should be required to give all of their technology to their competitors and make it public and open-sourced every 7 years. This would speed along technology and innovation because you would no longer have 10 competing companies trying to re-invent the wheel all the time.

Think about how inefficient that is if 10 companies have spent the full R&D costs to invent and re-invent one device or technology, because the first 9 designs were patented by someone else.

Whereas if they shared technology, you could make a smartphone with all of the best features and components of all the best technologies. The whole system is self detriment.
LivaN
5 / 5 (1) Sep 13, 2011
A counter argument could be, without profits the cure wouldn't exist in the first place. To this I say, surely there are better ways of meeting those profits? Maybe a global taxation, and for those idea that are deemed revolutionary or life saving, the global taxation buys the rights for all humanity?

And how many of these global taxes would you have? Hundreds? Thousands? Idealistic, but unworkable.


Thousands? No I said a global taxation, meaning one tax. The priority of each idea whould be wheighed against the needs of the world, and those deemed necesscary are purchased for all to use. Idealistic, but unworkable? Surely you describe the current system? No, idealistic would be to try and buy all patents for free use, rather than a portion of the most important one.
Gena777
not rated yet Sep 19, 2011
One of the few helpful measures that I see contained in this legislation is a provision requiring a showing of "competitive injury" in order to obtain standing in a false marking suit. This should prove effective in reducing (if not eliminating) the new scourge of false marking patent trolls. And, doubtless, those at the USPTO are looking forward to a probable increase in fees. But, from what I can tell, the rest of this bill is mostly a wash.
http://www.genera...om/blog/