Feeds

Microsoft legal beagle calls for patent reform cooperation

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

High performance access to file storage

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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.