Global Patent Chaos Creates Unwinnable Game for Mobile Tech Giants

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-12-28 Print this article Print

Samsung will also have its lawyers busy in the EU arguing that it really wasn't being anti-competitive just because it was trying to have Apple banned because of the two companies' inability to agree on a price for its 3G patents.

Of course, this works both ways. Apple is trying to have Samsung's products banned in the U.S. over an expanded infringement suit in the same court where Apple won its now-disputed billion dollar judgment. While this is going on, Alcatel-Lucent is suing Apple for alleged violation of a data-compression technique, Ericsson is suing Samsung, and Apple and Motorola are suing each other.

Things can only get more bizarre. Nokia and Research In Motion are suing each other over patents for WiFi that they have already agreed to license to each other under the standard-essential patent agreement that each company cross-licensed in 2003. In this case Nokia isn't seeking a sales ban on RIM's BlackBerry devices.

No doubt, I left a number of important players out of this laundry list of patent weirdness. But the fact is that there's apparently at least as much patent abuse going on as there is innovation. It seems that the current patent strategy at many technology companies is to patent everything and see what sticks. I'm surprised that one of these companies hasn't tried to patent the use of photons to transmit light. But perhaps I just haven't found that one yet.

The problems with such an approach are many. First, it clogs the patent systems everywhere as examiners have to painstakingly research thousands of applications, knowing that a portion are clearly bogus, even though they lack the resources to identify which ones on a timely basis.

Then it bogs down the courts when companies try to enforce those bogus patents, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. In the meantime, it stifles innovation because companies have to involve lawyers at every stage of development, making the creative process flow with the speed of molasses.

The problem is what to do to fix the problem. Clearly patent laws need to be reformed, but that would require a functional Congress, which is clearly lacking. And, yes, I know they passed a new patent reform law this year. You see how well it worked out.

It would also take a patent office efficient enough to put some basic guidelines in place, which is something else we don't have. So, it's no wonder all this tangled litigation goes on.

It's easy to blame the government for not doing its job in the first place and wasting more public and private money as a consequence of its inaction. But it seems that no matter what kind of patent system is in place, so much money and such huge global markets are at stake that the mobile technology giants would keep battling in court just to see how they could game the system.

Somehow, that doesn't seem to be what the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind when they first defined and authorized the patent laws.


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