Thursday, April 27, 2006

Patent Trolls

It's been an interesting 48 hours, I've swung from one side of the argument to the other a few times and I still don't know where I stand but lets talk about one of the most important issues facing western civilisation at the moment "Patent Trolls"

Yeh I know I'm a geek, what can I say, but seriously you may think this doesn't bother you but where would you be without your shiny new ipod.

The background of the argument is this......

Mr Jobs thinks of a cool new idea called an ipod and decides he wants to patent the gui circular wheel interface

Mr Jobs sets up factory's, creates job, hires secretary's, buys advertising (which makes tv free etc) maybe even hires you, in other words - Mr Jobs invents something that influences your life in ways you've never thought of.

Now Mr Jobs deserves protection because lets face it - you love ipod, you buy ipod, someone sees this and decides they want to build jpod (because j comes after i) and Mr Jobs is left with no way to pay back the money he invested coming up with the ipod in the first place.

So we come to a software project I've been involved with this week where these guys developed some technology over the past few years which was cutting edge at the time but nothing that couldn't be developed in a month or two with a room of 8-10 very smart guys.

They are about to raise $5m for approx 50% of their company. All good. Basically they deserve it as they have something cool that could be even cooler if they had money to get the word out faster.

Now they dont have any patents and to be honest whilst they could be applying for patents on a number of process areas a patent is only worth something if;
1/ someone infringes
2/ you have money to prosecute
3/ you win and the loser has money to pay you with (and your lawyer)

Should they have patented something for protection, maybe but patenting software concepts or processes are getting so much like splitting hairs that it's almost futile and a mine (mind even) field that causes nothing but distraction from the job you set out to do in the first place.....write cool software that makes peoples lives better.

So am I against software not particularly but then you have the 'rhinoceros head in the corner' that no one is talking about.......what happens when someone with really deep deep (no deeper even) pockets patents stuff that is so material to innovation that it's almost like they are taxing the air that you breath as a developer.

Mind Games
Intellectual Ventures happily invests in invention, while the tech world trembles in fear. An inside look at Nathan Myhrvold's $400 million IP experiment.

Read the story it's worth it but the basics of it are this this behemoth has invested $400M in buying/registering/acquiring approx 3000-5000 patents.

Some of which are so basic that you wont be able to develop anything without crossing 'Go' and paying your tax.

Some people are talking about how the founders of this company Nokia, Apple, Intel etc are only using this as a shield against other people suing them but..... it's the fear that no one knows if they will turn to the dark side and become something so scary that your ipod will disappear over night.

There is another interesting case thats currently before the US supreme court regarding the originator of innovation Ebay and a company called MercExchange.

There are two parts to this story -
The first part - Injunctive relief - here alwayson-network about how MercExchange patented the "buy it now" process that Ebay now make about $4B of the $12B in revenues last year.

This article basically says - MercExchange owns something and they want it back and to enforce the rights they own for it.

The second part - Good Patents V's Bad Patents - here on which basically talks about how the supreme court is considering ruling on bad patent holders who do nothing (patent trolls)...and have no ability to do anything with their inventions... and only sit on them for the sole purpose of licensing the technology - of course this is the modus operandi most of the official technology companies as well....even the ones such as Nokia, Apple and Intel

What they are really saying is we don't like the rules and we want you to change them to suit us..... nobody likes a cry baby.

p.s. no go and kiss a software engineer because without them your shiny new ipod would be nothing more than an expensive paperweight (just like your blackberry but that's an injunctive story for another time).


  1. the supreme court is considering ruling on bad patent holders who do nothing (patent trolls)...and have no ability to do anything with their inventions... and only sit on them for the sole purpose of licensing the technology

    Where do you stand on issues where the patent holder does nothing with their invention, but uses royalties to fund additional research?,39023166,39192549,00.htm

  2. To be honest i think the CSIRO should be more agressive in their patent strategies.

    I think that companies should be able to patent a concept and license the technology.

    I think the real issue here is the very basic decision of what should be able to be patented in the first place.