Readers scorn ‘Lawsuits in Motion’ keyboard claim

And a bonus Brief History of Patents

Letters Handspring told us that it had no public comment to make on the Research in Motion's patent infringement lawsuit. But you have plenty to say about this claim, based on a patent for a very small keyboard on a wireless device.

Yet another blow for any sort of interface standardization on hand-held devices, I suppose. Imagine if someone had successfully protected a patent on the QWERTY keyboard layout. We'd all have to learn to type all over again every time we bought a keyboard from a different company! This reminds me of the old "look and feel" lawsuits that were a big deal in the 90's, and I don't like it any better.

David Brodbeck

Subject: detritus from the bursting of the bubble

What a truly pathetic patent from RIM.

Intimidating people with junk patents is going to be a growth business: bogus patents are pretty much the only detritus remaining from the collapse of the bubble.

Ken Tindell

I was interested by that kind of device (PDA+phone+mail). Let I remember to buy any, but a RIM one.


Olivier Brasseur, from France

Actually, the Blackberry doesn't do voice calls.

What a croc of shit that one is Quite simply carpet bagging at it's best.

Since Sony seems willing to pay up quickly and quietly on some patent issues, maybe I should start patenting Sony's innovations and file suits against them. I can see a whole new career path before me...

Jim Halfpenny

To quote from

Nokia's 5510 page:-

"The eyecatching split keyboard layout means that the Nokia 5510 is optimized for text messaging, so you can send your messages almost as fast as you can think them. And faster typing with a full keyboard also makes sending WAP e-mail a lot easier."

So methinks that RIM are going to be out of luck with this one....

Ian Darling

Stuart Geary, amongst others, disputes the contention that patents "were originally designed to protect small investors". Not in Elizabethan England they weren't, he tells us:-

Patents for inventions, as opposed to other forms of monopoly grants (we're back in the 16th and 17th centuries here), were granted to promote economic development by encouraging the devising of new products and processes or the importing of new techniques from abroad. This was a time when skilled workers were not necessarily free to emigrate on national security grounds. At that time all inventions were made by the small guy. However, everyone else was a small guy too.

Look at the wording of Section 6 of the English Statute of Monopolies of 1624:-

"Section 6. Provided also (and be it declared and enacted) that any declaration before mentioned shall not extend to any letters patent and grants of privilege for the term of fourteen years or under, hereafter to be made, of the sole working or making of any manner of new manufactures within this realm, to the true and first inventor and inventors of such
manufactures which others at the time of making such letters patent and grants shall not use, so as also they be not contrary to the law or mischievous to the state, by raising prices of commodities at home, or hurt of trade, or generally inconvenient."

The Statute of Monopolies banned all forms of patent with the exception of those for inventions as it had been accepted that these, unlike other types, benefited the economy. However, this exclusion is itself limited by a requirement that individual patents do not harm the economy, i.e. be "mischievous to the state, by raising prices of commodities at home, or hurt of trade, or generally inconvenient".

Stuart Geary CPA, EPA
Venner, Shipley & Co.

Richard Hadden, of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, which is a lottery-funded agency intended to capitalize on UK inventions, also wrote to us.

Patents were a bargain, he says.

Subject: nature of patent

I read The Reg daily and normally you are spot on - but I have to take issue with the casual asssertion that patents were "designed to protect small inventors". I don't have a particular axe to grind about what they are designed for, but they are certainly not designed for that!

The history of patents, at least in Anglo-Saxon common-law jurisdictions, is bound up in the grant of monopolies. Patents were "letters patent", which were documents from the sovereign granting rights to people, usually an ennoblement or a right to bear a coat of arms, both of which are natural monopolies.

In the 1620's, a famous case (well, among lawyers), the Case of Playing Cards, concerned the right of the King to grant a monopoly - as a political favour - over the manufacture of playing cards, a grant amounting to something much like a patent. After some toing and froing, the right of the King to grant Monopolies was ceded to Parliament.

In the mercantile mediaeval economy, the path to riches was thought to lie in creating and defending a monopoly, hence the great guilds. Other creations of letters patent were therefore the Corporations, e.g. the Guilds, the civic corporations that ran the new industrial towns, or the trading monopolies such as the East India Company. (These were the forebears of the 18th-19th joint stock companies and hence the 20th+ c. limited liability company.) The King and after him Parliament, well beyond the mediaevial period continued happily to grant mercantile monopolies: the whole view of trade with the American colonies, the Hudson Bay and East India Companies etc.

NB: I write this from the office we rent in the basement of London's fourth great guild, the Fishmongers' (, who had a monopoly right to tax sales of fish in the City.

To recap, letters patent underpinned the creation of Corporations and the associated grant of monopolies. Corporations eventually became regulated by statute, and created mechanically by filling in forms. Patents, too, went down this path, starting of as requiring an individual application to Parliament and ending up as a mechanical process regulated by statute.

At a similar time to the Playing Cards case, there had been a corresponding case about the control of monopolies for the public good. In the US this developed into common law principles e.g. common running rights (railways) and anti-trust law. In the UK, this path of development died and was reintroduced by statute in the 20th c. with regard to markets. However, patent law had considered the nature of monopolies, and evolved from indefinite monopoly of early latters patent into what we now know as a patent: a bargain between society and the inventor that the inventor will make full disclosure of their invention in return for a *time-limited* monopoly on its exploitation.

Adam Smith and comparative advantage showed that competition was better for the economy as a whole, and Schumpeter has since suggested that, even if competition is not necessarily good for the individual enterprise, monopoly as a strategy is bad because it all ends in paradigm-shift tears. The robber barons of the 19th c. preferred the mercantile view of the economy, however.

The framers of the US constitution appreciated the time-limit - having been under the mercantile yoke of Westminster - which is why copyright etc. appears in it. However, patents were never designed to *protect* anybody: they were a bargain to persuade all inventors to allow widespread, competitive adoption of their inventions once a limited period of cast-iron monopoly (and hence one would hope guaranteed profits) had accrued to them. Patents are generally a force for social good - the problems come with the life of the patent vs rate of innovation in a particular domain, not the size of the inventor!

Richard Hadden
Investment Programme Manager
Invention & Innovation, NESTA

Thanks to all who wrote. ®