Feeds

Mr WebTV skewers US patent bill

Startups in danger?

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

The man who invented WebTV thinks the US patent system is on the verge of ruin.

Last month, after a heavy lobby from big-name tech companies like Apple, Google, Intel, and Microsoft, the House of Representatives approved a bipartisan bill that seeks to reinvent patent litigation, and Steve Perlman is adamant this Patent Reform Act would put a stranglehold on the country's traditionally vibrant startup culture.

"You know how they tend to name bills in ways that seem positive but don't really represent what the bill is all about?" Perlman told The Reg. "This isn't patent reform. This is patent repeal."

According to Perlman, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and inventor best known for his work on WebTV and the original color Macintosh, the Patent Reform Act has been pushed through by tech behemoths who either don't understand patents or don't need them for success in the marketplace.

These companies are simply interested in protecting themselves from expensive litigation, Perlman says, and in doing so, they're curbing the hopes of the country's entrepreneurs, whose livelihood depends so heavily on patent law. "Patents protect small companies. They help them grow into large companies."

Many in the press have painted the bill as a battle between high-tech businesses and pharmaceutical businesses, which generate so much revenue from patent licenses. But in Perlman's eyes, it's a fight between large tech companies and everyone else, including small tech companies.

"This is isn't pharm versus high-tech," he said. "This is people who need patents versus people who don't need patents."

In essence, he argues, the bill devalues patents, and that helps no one but the Intels and the Microsofts and the Googles of the world. "They just don't need patents to maintain their market position, so - on the balance - it's better for them if no one has patents to assert against them," said Perlman, who has over 70 patents to his name. "Intel isn't concerned with suing little companies. They're only concerned with little companies suing them."

And, yes, he includes Apple with the Intels and the Microsofts. "If somebody cloned the iPhone or the iPod - and certainly people have tried - would it make much of a difference?"

I believe in America

The Patent Reform Act of 2007 - which the Senate has yet to vote on - seeks to harmonize the US patent system with systems used in the rest of the world. But it's also an effort to bury so-called "patent trolls," businesses who use their patents solely as a means of siphoning money from other businesses.

Currently, the US is the only country where the patent goes to the person who first invented a technology - not the person who first filed a patent application. If passed into law, the Patent Reform Act would switch the country to a first-to-file system. This would simplify patent disputes, but according Perlman, it would also stifle innovation.

"It would be nice if the world had a unified patent system," he said. "But when it comes to technology, I like our economy better than the economies in the rest of the world. I don't envy other countries for their startup economies. Why do we want to change ourselves to be like them?"

Filing a patent is expensive, he points out, and with a first-to-file rule in place, startups don't have the dough to cover all their bases. "In a first-to-invent country, if you have 25 ideas on a whiteboard, you don't have to file 25 patents. You don't even file when you whittle it down to 12. You file when you're down to five really good ideas."

"In a first-to-file company, you can't do it that," he continued. "You have to file all 25 ideas, just in case one of those turns out be the right idea." And each patent costs you $10,000. "The cost of invention is less in a first-to-invent country."

The biggest problem with this switch, he adds, is that it would kick in as soon as the bill becomes law. Startups who've carefully planned their patent strategies will be caught with their pants down. "We need warning on this," Perlman said.

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

More from The Register

next story
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.