17th level Hacker

Patents and Innovation in the Mobile Space

Just a quick note, I need to get back to work after having a late lunch but didn’t want to let this slip through the cracks. Patently Absurd: How New Wireless Technologies Get Strangled By Patents is worth a read. Here’s an excerpt:

The real problem, though, is that this isn’t at all how the patent system was supposed to work. The companies that really are working on MIMO technology for use in things like next generation Wi-Fi didn’t get the idea for MIMO from a random Speedus patent, but from recognizing that it was the most obvious way to speed up wireless transmissions. In other words, the core claim of a patent, it being “non-obvious” doesn’t apply. No one has “stolen” the ideas in the patent in question. It’s just that lots of people came up with similar ideas at the same time through the natural evolution of the technology.

Almost everyone I talk to about patents within the software arena thinks that the system is hopelessly broken, yet they still go out and get their own patents because they’re useful as a “blocking technique”. Meaning if you have your own patent when someone comes to sue you for infringing on their patent, you’re on better footing because of that patent you have. But those who go out to get blocking patents sometimes end up in a situation where it seems like they could recover their legal fees and maybe make some money by exercising their patents. It’s a tempting prospect once you have the patent in hand already. It forms a nice little closed loop feedback cycle where more patents lead to more patents, and the way to avoid the threat of patents is to get patents yourself. Not exactly the way I would like for things to be, but at least there’s no decisions to make.