Patent Wars? Google Says Let's Stop the Madness

By | Aug 22, 2012

Patent Wars. It sounds like the name of a show on A&E. But these disputes are becoming all too common in U.S. courtrooms, filed by tech company after tech company looking to "protect their interests." Samsung sues Apple; Oracle sues Google; Google sues Apple. It may only be a matter of time before Apple sues itself or an emerging IT company decides to sue every other tech provider in the country. Now, however, Google is calling for a serious look at the use and viability of intellectual patents and wonders if ditching them might not make the world a better place, but is the company really willing to step up? Are we only a few years away from IBM, Apple, and Microsoft singing Kumbaya around a campfire? No is the obvious answer, but that doesn't mean progress is impossible.

The System as it Stands

It is broken, according to Pablo Chavez, Google's public policy director. Quoted in a recent CNET article, Chavez says that "we think these patent wars are not helpful for consumers." He goes on to say that "they're not helpful to the marketplace. They're not helpful to innovation." They're certainly not helpful to midsize IT pros, who must be at least peripherally concerned with the vast number of court cases going on at any time--a number that increases day by day. Twitter announced a sort of Hippocratic Oath for tech companies in April to tackle this problem, stating they would only use their patents for "defensive purposes" rather than to stifle innovation. Google, according to Chavez, is going a step further and taking a hard look at whether the patent system is helpful or harmful to technology innovation.

And it's not merely above-board filings that are now being heard in court--if you consider any highly technical, "we did it before you" claims as above-board. The volatile nature of the IT patent industry has spawned what are known as "patent trolls," companies or individuals that file as many suits as they can, simply to discredit other businesses. A revision or removal of the patent system as it exists could go a long way to making the industry a friendlier place to work.

A Minor Detail...

All this Google talk of making the IT world more consumer- and innovation-friendly sounds great. But it's hard to ignore the fact that last week they filed a patent suit against Apple, through their subsidiary Motorola, claiming infringement on seven of its patents, including those dealing with voice recognition function Siri, location reminders, and video playback. As an article at The Telegraph reports, Motorola has asked the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to consider banning the importation of iPhones and iPads into the U.S. if Apple loses the court case.

Not exactly the friendly world talked about by Chavez, but Google claims that Apple is "unwilling" to work out a license agreement; in other words, Big Fruit doesn't think it should have to pay for its own technology innovations. And this is where the real problem lies: Every company that files a suit is going to claim they're "defending" IP rights, not launching another attack in the ongoing patent wars.

Google's nonpatent solution has merit, but it would have to start somewhere. A large company (a search provider, perhaps?) would need to let patent bygones be bygones, while actively searching for a collegial replacement for the current adversarial system. Such a change could only be a boon for midsize IT admins, who wouldn't have to worry about a court injunction simply for trying to be innovative or for tweaking a bit of cloud software to suit their needs. And if the patent wars can't be resolved, perhaps it's time to consider a move to cable, a fancy courtroom set, and a firebrand judge; at least it would make for decent TV.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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