UN locks Apple, Google, Microsoft in a room for patent peace summit
'You're meant to encourage innovation, not stifle it'
Tech titans including Apple, Nokia, Google and Microsoft will today argue the toss at a UN confab on whether patent law is stifling innovation.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) arranged the get-together to assess the effectiveness of allowing companies to sort out the licensing of patents crucial to building industry-standard gear. Firms are expected to offer these essential designs on "reasonable and non-discriminatory" terms.
The meeting will also discuss whether existing patent law should be updated, whether standards essential patent violations should result in product bans, and what the basic rate for royalties should be.
It comes after the Great Patent War, fought worldwide by rival tech giants, spread from arguments over the appearance of products to patents that are the bedrock of modern communications systems, such as 3G mobile broadband. Motorola and Samsung, which own reams of intellectual property relating to standardised technology, have used their phone patents in legal action chiefly launched by Apple.
Regulators in Europe and the US have voiced their concern over the use of these patents as courtroom weapons. The EU has opened official probes into Samsung and Motorola, and the US Congress is considering outlawing product bans won using standards-essential patents.
"We are seeing an unwelcome trend in today’s marketplace to use standards-essential patents to block markets," ITU secretary general Dr Hamadoun Touré said in a canned statement. "There needs to be an urgent review of this situation: patents are meant to encourage innovation, not stifle it.
"Acknowledging patent holders and user requirements, as well as market needs, is a balancing act. This timely multi-stakeholder roundtable will help press for a resolution on some of the critical issues."
All participants in the meeting, held in Geneva, were invited to submit written opinions, and the firms have already voiced differing views over these patents.
Microsoft unsurprisingly backed the current system, which encourages fair licensing over outright bans on products. Earlier this year the software giant lost an infringement case in Germany over Motorola's patents on the H.264 standard - a video compression technology used in Xbox games consoles.
"We have offered our view that any patent holder that promises to make its standard essential patents available on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms should do just that. That means that such patent holders should not seek to block shipments of competing products just because they implement an industry standard - a license on reasonable terms is always available," Microsoft said.
"That also means that such patent holders should not require other firms to license back their patents, except for patents that are essential to the same standard."
On the other hand, Nokia argued that bans should be available to holders of standards-essential patents (SEPs).
"While injunctions with SEPs should certainly not be available against a genuinely willing licensee, there are situations where injunctions against unwilling licensees are a necessary remedy for [intellectual property rights] holders, such as a total refusal to negotiate a licence, or refusal to pay compensation determined by a competent court," the company said.
Samsung, RIM, Intel, Sony, HP and Huawei are among the businesses on the attendance list as well as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Nokia. ®
outlawing product bans won using standards-essential patents
This is unfair. All the holders of standards essential patents have played together for many years without a problem until Apple came along. Apple doesn't hold any essential patents but has been granted many extremely dubious ones such as the ipad design that consisted of nothing more than a rectangle and the joke that is slide to unlock. Apple wants to make a mobile device then fine, but it is right that they should pay the companies that created the means to make it a mobile device and those companies should be paid fairly. Fairly in this instance means more than the other holders of essential patents are expected to pay as Apple have contributed nothing to it and have nothing of value to offer in return.
These companies have had no choice but to use them as weapons against Apple as the courts have allowed Apple to demand a lot more for the patents they hold (which should never have been granted, software patents are a bad thing) than those essential ones leading to the situation that a patent for actually allowing a phone to contact another phone is worth less than a design element that just allows a scroll bar to bounce back when it hits the end and Apple have been given a free ride to demand as much as they like ($30 is really taking the piss).
I have no doubt that the usual suspects will be along shortly to declare how this is fine and you lose all rights when you allow your patent to become part of a standard. This is not true. The terms of becoming part of the standard are that they must be reasonable. It is perfectly reasonable for say Motorola to allow cross licensing of their essential patents with Samsung for a nominal fee of a penny as both companies have patents the other needs or their device doesn't work. it is also reasonable to say to Apple 'we would like $20 from you for the same patents' as Apple have nothing to contribute back. If Apple claim $30 is reasonable for a design element, then logically is is reasonable to ask $100 for patents that actually make a device work.
If this goes ahead it will allow companies such as Apple to get away with taking all their competitors to court and demanding bans over very trivial things, while those that have actually developed real technology will not be able to fight back in any way. R&D spending will dwindle and innovation will suffer for it. Why should a company invest millions in the next generation hardware when the courts will force them to effectively give it away to their competitors who will be able to sue and get their products banned over a design element that compared to real research costs nothing to come up with. When it becomes much more lucrative to draw pretty pictures than develop new kinds of hardware something has gone wrong somewhere.
Designs should never be a patent issue, they should be a copyright issue
The statement from that guy suggests..
...that essential patents can't get a ban, but Apple's behaviour is acceptable (i.e. not being marked down for widely noted bullyishness).
@AC 13:39 - Thing is, we're headed down the path to where nobody will dare spending a lot of money developing a product as they know that their competition will sue them into oblivion because of vague similarities.