Patents, trolls, Google, and the rest of this mess.

It’s been a fun day in the world of technology, and for all the wrong reasons. David Drummond, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer at Google kicked things off with, what in hindsight I’d see as a good ol’ fashioned bitch.

But Android’s success has yielded something else: a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents.

I’m pretty sure “bogus” hasn’t been put in quotes as much in a day. Ever.

Now is as good a time as any to provide some background on the broken software patent system by pulling out some dialogue from a recent episode of the greatly insightful This American Life podcast, When Patents Attack!

Companies that make no products, but go around suing other companies that do make products, over supposed patent infringement are so common in Silicon Valley these days that there’s a derogatory term for it. Trolls. Or patent trolls.

Because patents are so broad…

We’re at a point in the state of intellectual property where existing patents probably cover every behavior that’s happening on the Internet or our mobile phones today.

… And these patents out there that aren’t for something novel or are so broad they can cover anything? Every single one of them can be used to bring lawsuits. In response, all the big tech companies have started amassing troves of software patents, not to build anything, but to defend themselves. If a company’s patent horde is big enough, it can say essentially, if you try to sue me with your patents, I’ll sue you with mine.

… It is the old mutually assured destruction. Except instead of arsenals of nuclear weapons it’s arsenals of patents

It’s a highly recommended listen / read, centred around the devious Intellectual Ventures, who are the biggest patent trolls out there, using shell companies like Oasis Research and Lodsys to conduct their dirty dealings, abusing the broken patent system.

Google lost the 6,000 Nortel patents to Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and others, acquired a 1,000 from IBM, and now it’s the 8,800+ InterDigital wireless mobile patents that everyone is after, to ensure the destruction is mutually assured.

4.5 billion dollars on patents that these companies almost certainly don’t want for their technical secrets. That 4.5 billion dollars won’t build anything new, won’t bring new products to the shelves, won’t open up new factories that can hire people who need jobs.  That’s 4.5 billion dollars that adds to the price of every product these companies sell you — 4.5 billion dollars essentially wasted, buying arms for an ongoing patent war.

Microsoft makes money every time HTC sells an Android handset through this. Microsoft has their own Windows Mobile 7 that they’re charging a fee for [I read $15 per device somewhere earlier, not sure if that’s accurate]. Microsoft and Apple are losing market share and potential $$$ to Google every day. Google’s Android is less-than-free. They’re paying manufacturers to use it. All Google cares about is more people using their services. More people using their services means more potential ad impressions across more channels, and this IS their sole cash cow.

We’re not naive; technology is a tough and ever-changing industry and we work very hard to stay focused on our own business and make better products. But in this instance we thought it was important to speak out and make it clear that we’re determined to preserve Android as a competitive choice for consumers, by stopping those who are trying to strangle it.

Aww, shucks! You care about us consumers so much, Google! But, uh, surely if you’re not naive, you can understand why this broken patent system is being abused by Microsoft, Apple, etc to milk you for all you’re worth? I’ve certainly come around to that realisation. You’re all in it to make money; patents just haven’t been at the forefront of how you make money.

Let’s face it. The software patent system is broken, and that’s where the focus of your post should have been. Maybe patent reform is too lofty a goal, but I don’t know if that post from earlier today garnered you guys sympathy or called you out as pussies.


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