Google: Kill all the patent trolls
US patent system 'in crisis'
Google's head of patents believes the U.S. patent system is "in crisis". Discussing patent reform at the annual Stanford Summit in Northern California, associate general counsel Michelle Lee told conference attendees that the American system is "out-of-balance [and] needs to be remedied".
"The Patent Office is overburdened," she said. "The volume of patents going in is huge. And the quality of patents coming out - it could be better."
There are too many businesses, she added, who do little more than use patents as a means of making money. Such businesses, often referred to as trolls in patent law, have proved to be a serious minefield for tech companies over the last few years. Lee highlighted the tribulations of Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry handheld, which settled a patent lawsuit for $612m last May.
Speaking alongside Lee, Apple's chief patent counsel, Chip Lutton, wouldn't go quite so far as his Google counterpart. He said the US patent system was "not broken" and that it was "not in crisis," calling it "the best in the world". But he acknowledged that there was a "huge bubble" of patent assertions that needs to be scaled back. "The question with this bubble market, as with any bubble market, is 'Can we solve it without a crisis arising?'" he said.
Lutton believes that the key to fixing the country's patent problems lies with the courts, not the patent office. "Most patents issued are never litigated and never licensed," he said. "We need to focus on fixing the litigation system. That's most relevant."
Lutton's attitude was mirrored by that of fellow speaker David Kappos, vice president and assistant general counsel for intellectual property law at IBM, the company that has led the country in patent filling for the last 14 years.
Perhaps Google is still learning how to play the patent game as well as seasoned veterans like Apple and IBM. When asked if the company's own struggles with the patent system where mostly the result of an increase in the number software patents issued or the rise in Google's popularity, Lee picked popularity. "When you become successful," she said, "all of a sudden everyone wants a piece of it." ®
Patent system broken for innovators too
Astronomy and computing researchers at CSIRO invented a multipath radio reception technology where multipath signals actually improved reception rather than degraded it. They built it, they used it in their own astronomy receivers, and they patented it in 1992.
Now CSIRO are involved in multi-year litigation against huge multinational firms to force manufacturers using 802.11a, 802.11g and 802.11n to take a license. This is despite the 802.11 committee making it clear that a patent license would be required by manufacturers, by approaching CSIRO during the development of the standards for a statement that the patent would be license on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.
Of course computer manufacturers faced with a $5 license fee would much rather litigate than pay. Unfortunately for them, the Australian government decided to fund the litigation rather than see a successful strategy against research commercialisation gain hold. A "small" private sector innovator would not have been bankrolled.
eBay pricing system
A few years back I complained to eBay because I was trying to buy RAM on the basis of how cheap it was. The problem was that lots of sellers were hiding their costs in their postage prices. This, I said, made it impossible to know an item's true cost without clicking on the list entry and opening up the full discription. An item priced at £10 could actually cost £20 because of the over-priced delivery charge - browing through 50 items was a real pain in the a**e.
A few months later eBay started listing both item cost AND delivery cost in their item listings. Problem solved!
Now, as far as I am concerned this was a no-brainer. An obvious solution to an obvious problem. However, it seems that what I should have done is start my own auction site with this system of payment display, which I could then have patented and licenced to eBay. I wouldn't have deserved any money for this idea, because someone else would have come up with it a few weeks later anyway (its not like I invented the telephone!). In fact, hundreds, or even thousands of other people had probably also spotted this and some of them would have emailed eBay as well.
Patents should only be provided for technological innovation as this rewards innovation AND investment. Allowing patents for random 'ideas' that require no effort to come up with or implement simply slows down the growth of a business sector without rewarding the genuinely creative people out there. All it does is help create monopolies, which most of us can agree are usually bad for everyone except shareholders of one particular company.
At the moment, the US patent system benefits 'vested interests' over the natural development of the free market. In fact, it is not a million miles away from Communist Russia, where innovation was restricted and controlled through a deliberately anti-competitive set of government determined rules.
I am an inventor. Not an artist, sculptor, writer, singer or composer. My thoughts confined to paper are not something I can sell by the thousand to an admiring audience. The thrills of discovery are ethereal and ephemeral and not something to hang on a wall, or listen to of a quiet night at home with some friends. My thoughts are; however, the bedrock of a free society that thrives upon the countless goods and services stemming from those dust swirls of momentary idealistic creativity called inventions.
We look into the future, not the past. Have no need for the instant gratification of a wet canvas. We rely on many others for the sublimation of the initial idea into reality. Try imagining creating… anything and not being able to talk to anyone about it. Have an idea that you know in your heart is good and reliable and worthwhile and that you must bounce off another thinker and risk having that idea stolen, without a single thought. Not even a thank you. New, fresh, inventive thought; is extremely fragile.
Copyright does not protect us; is not designed to. The slightest slip between the thought forming in our heads and the office of the government patent office and the idea is gone, lost, forever not your own. Now, realise that, every idea we get costs money. To file for; to pay the attorney to delineate; to travel for sometimes decades with all the costs of a small business yet never finding anyone that will pay that extra mile to see the idea into production. Never any income, regarded by any banker as a nuisance at best and a malingerer most of the time. Remember, it can be years before we are granted the patent itself. Up to that moment, we have nothing but an idea that “might” be worthwhile developing.
When we at last arrive at the grant of that paper contract called a patent and when all our troubles should be behind us; instead, we now inhabit another even more demanding and dangerous world. Government makes us a part of the industrial might of a nation by granting that patent. And follow that grant by ensuring that we become their slave to a process that demands a regularly increasing payment of maintenance fees, (remember we have no income without exploitation), over its twenty year lifetime.
In that case, surely, government should have a mind to see that these initial seeds of the nation’s future prosperity are protected from the frosts of monopoly and overbearing competition. Instead, we find that government is, on the one hand, completely indifferent to our reality or, on the other, only prepared to sustain us, on a whim, to the smallest extent unless we break our vow, (implicit in the grant of that patent to sustain competition); by walking through the door of an existing competitor.
And just to add insult to injury, they toss their heads in complete indifference to the fact that there is no fully free, free enterprise based, financial marketplace; wherein we should be able to capitalise our new ideas, competitively, against the incumbent industry.
Instead encouraging the short term capitalisation regime of the venture capitalist that only serves to reinforce monopoly through the refusal to entertain investment in the small local business that has an aiming point of long term independence; The utter stupidity that we cannot be permitted to be both free and successful.
The final indignity is to discover the governments’ complicity in keeping the monopoly supplier of yesterday in place rather than accept that thinking has moved on and there is a new game in town. How dare I suggest that I have a better idea? Who is this idiot that thinks beyond their station? We are a Department of Government, how dare they state we are in the wrong?
They are talking about an inventor; arguably, the strongest competitor in a competitive society.
It is a travesty that we are both trammelled by government rules for our own actions and at one and the same time distained by that same institution. No one seems to have given any thought to the long term implications of a refusal on the part of government to protect that inventor. We need protecting, have no other financial means of sustaining a normal family life, raising children, building homes, all the things you take for granted.
Imagine please, take a moment to think about this; you will be expected, yes, expected; to work for decades without any income from your efforts. And no, I am not talking about the hardship everyone goes through to gain an education. That phase lasts until our early twenties. No, I am talking about the rest of your working lives.
No one will sustain you. No banker will lend you money for your efforts to secure that piece of paper called a patent. Look back along your career and think what your life would have been like with no income from your primary work? Dig a trench for the foundations of your new home and a lender sees immediately the onward worth of your efforts. Not so the inventor. Worse still, everyone imagines we will immediately become a millionaire. Surely, there are many examples of such success? The truth is that by far the majority of inventions never see the light of day; are never prototyped, capitalised, or exploited; a veritable wasteland of lost effort, lost lives.
It is an interesting dichotomy that a nation will perceive an inventor sits at the pinnacle of their industrial society, supposedly values their efforts, yet does not recognise any duty to support them. Try imagining being, let us say for example a Supreme Court Judge, performing all the duties, reading all the papers, transcribing all the thoughts related to that occupation while at the same time, on top of your duties; working for 12 hours a day for a pittance and coming home exhausted to your “proper” work. Have you ever regularly worked a 24 hour day? I have had to do just that, at least once a week, every week for years at a time.
Look around you and think how much your life would change without that income you have received every month without fail since you first qualified. Imagine all those years of work without any financial reward for your efforts. Scorned for being poor by every bank manager you have ever met. No money for golf or flying, often not even for a simple home of your own. Constantly scrounging help from friends to keep going forward with your ideas. Importantly, the individual inventor cannot go bankrupt to alleviate their finances as any other entrepreneur can and start again. They would lose the rights to their intellectual property the moment they do that. So that option is totally closed off from them. They are thus often forced into the direst financial circumstances with no way out other than to abandon their chosen profession.
That is the life of the individual inventor today.
We must stop believing in the idea of investment for the few promoting success only at the top of society and government subsistence handouts for the rest.
Only a fully competitive free enterprise based society can succeed; and to achieve that success, everyone must take responsibility and play their part to encourage; those individuals that step forward to try and to succeed, as best they can, within their own communities.
Human competition is the most natural influence and must be encouraged at every level. That is surely the governments’ greatest responsibility?