Killing Bad Patents

#Computers

Thu, Sep 26th, 2013 12:00 by capnasty NEWS

According to The Washington Post, reform designed to more easily invalidate low-quality patents has created an interesting conundrum. One one hand, "the technology sector is united in opposition to patent trolls." On the other, technology giants "are fighting among themselves" in fear the reform would "make it easier to invalidate their own patents."

This is the problem of patent thickets: when a large company holds so many patents that it becomes impossible to innovate without infringing numerous patents. Acquiring patents is a slow and expensive process, so incumbent technology firms will always have a lot more patents than up-and-coming firms. Patent thickets owned by IBM, Microsoft and other incumbent technology companies act as a tax on innovation, transferring wealth from today's innovators to the innovators of the past.

The problem has gotten worse since the courts lowered the bar on patent quality in the 1990s. Microsoft, for example, has been granted more than 20,000 patents in the past decade. That has enabled Microsoft to force 80 percent of Android vendors (by market share) to pay Microsoft royalties to use software created by Google. That's not because Google stole Microsoft's source code. Rather, it's because Microsoft has so many broad patents that every modern operating system infringes many of them.

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