Feeds

Microsoft legal beagle calls for patent reform cooperation

'Fix what's broken, don't break what's working'

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

Microsoft has urged government, the courts, and industry to work together to help improve the US patent system, but also cautioned against breaking those aspects of the system that do work.

"There is no question that the U.S. patent system has tremendous strengths but also significant weaknesses," Microsoft executive VP and general counsel Brad Smith said in a blog post on Thursday.

Among the chief weaknesses Smith cited were abuse of standards-essential patents, lack of transparency into who owns patents, and inadequate patent review processes at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) leading to overboard patents and frivolous litigation.

Smith said that Redmond has already taken several steps to improve how it handles its own patents. For example, in February 2012 Microsoft pledged never to seek injunctions to prevent companies from licensing Microsoft patents that are considered essential to industry standards – something Microsoft has accused Google-owned Motorola Mobility of doing in the past – and Smith urged other companies in the industry to do the same.

In December 2012 the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its own opinion criticizing Motorola's practices, and in January 2013 it announced it had reached an agreement with Google in which the search advertising giant agreed to license its subsidiary's mobile technology patents on "fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory" (FRAND) terms. Microsoft says it already offers FRAND terms for its own standards-essential patents.

Smith also said that the practice of concealing who actually owns patents leads to "opportunistic behavior and gamesmanship," and that Microsoft plans to make information explaining exactly which patents it owns available to anyone on the web by April 1, 2013.

Furthermore, Smith called for legislators to institute a "loser pays" system for patent litigation, in which the losing party is required to foot the cost of the winner's legal fees. Although many countries have adopted such a system for civil suits, such terms are still rare in US courts.

Smith said that making the loser pick up the legal bills would "force companies to internalize the strength of their case beforehand" – a rather lawyerly way of saying it would make companies think twice before bringing frivolous patent suits.

Finally, Smith called for the lawmakers to give USPTO patent examiners better access to information about prior art and more time to evaluate patent applications, to help weed out overbroad patents. He also said patent applicants should be required to use standard language wherever possible and to clearly define nonstandard terms where they were used.

What Smith does not want, on the other hand, is for the current patent system to be dismantled, or even for any current categories of patents – such as software patents – to be rescinded.

Smith said Microsoft is even in favor of companies that hold patents but do not actually create products based on the patented inventions, a practice which he described as "an engine of innovation."

"Iconic inventors such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla engaged in the sale and licensing of inventions they created but did not practice themselves, and today's individual inventors and start-ups stand in their shoes," Smith wrote.

But then, he would say that. Also on Thursday, Microsoft announced that Nikon had become the latest company to license Redmond-owned patents related to technologies found in Nikon cameras running Google's Android mobile OS. Microsoft itself markets no devices based on Android. And as for transparency, Microsoft did not disclose any details of the agreement – not even which patents Nokia actually licensed. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
Hello, police, El Reg here. Are we a bunch of terrorists now?
Do Brits risk arrest for watching beheading video nasty? We asked the fuzz
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
Detroit losing MILLIONS because it buys CHEAP BATTERIES – report
Man at hardware store was right: name brands DO last longer
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
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.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.