Patents are a double edged sword
The idea behind patent registration is valid, allow inventors and companies to protect their investment in innovation and extract value from it.
At the heart of the US patent law there is one goal
To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries
The competition between companies has led to endless lawsuits between giant companies yielding a zero value game where the only ones who made real value were the lawyers.
Using patens to monopolize the market and block improvement of competitors is not new. It started back in the 18th century with patents related to the steam engine; it just got really worse in the last few decades.
In today’s reality, engineers at large and even small companies are many times paralyzed by a load of lawyers with a mission to limit the risk of patent infringement.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Microsoft and google have lately decided to lay down their swords and put some sense into this battle, they agreed to drop some 20 lawsuits.
As encouraging as this may seem, it is not the first time giants decide to mutually drop lawsuits between them. The reason that this time it looks more promising stems from the spirit of cooperation coming from several giants such as Google, Microsoft, Intel, Netflix, Cisco, Mozilla and Amazon (Apple as usual missing out) to cooperate in the effort of defining a new royalty free video codec for the internet through the Alliance for Open Media.
This comes together with a statement issued by both companies saying
Google and Microsoft have agreed to collaborate on certain patent matters and anticipate working together in other areas in the future to benefit our customers.
Such statements should be taken with a grain of salt. Their reasons to cooperate are not so much us but more them, their interest.
It is hard to say there is a light at the end of the tunnel as the problem of patents is far beyond this specific case and the web video codec. Smaller companies suffer badly from current patent practice, a practice that results in the inverse of the original idea behind the patent law, progress innovation.
Time to modernize the patent laws
In today’s world, with the fast development of technology and the world of the web there are 2 issues with the patent laws and practice that I believe require some fixing (I’m sure we can find a few more):
- Some things just shouldn’t be patented, things that are fundamental for the advancement of a specific segment and are kind of trivial (e.g. concepts such as gestures on a smart phone, auto sync of contacts, calendar…)
- The term (time) of a patent in technology should be limited significantly compared to current practice