Just as a change of pace, I decided to write a little something about patents. You know, those things that inventors get to protect their intellectual property, the fruits of their labors?
Frankly, patents are a good thing...except when they're not.
In more recent history patents have been issued for some very strange things, including the genes in our bodies. (How the hell can someone patent genes, particularly those I was born with long before someone decide to patent them?) Some patents cover such broad and ambiguous territory that it becomes difficult to tell whether someone else's invention violates it or not. Some try to patent common sense things that have been in use for decades, if not centuries. And others have tried to patent international standards created by others.
What is the purpose of all of these tangential patents? Simply put, greed.
Some companies exist merely to buy and sell patents, and in particular to use those patents in order to squeeze money out of companies that inadvertently brush up against some of those vague patents.
Hopefully that is about to change.
U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday (April 18) aimed at overhauling the patent system by weeding out bad patents and reining in excessive litigation while preserving the rights of inventors.
The bill, backed by many software and technology companies, would give parties more leeway to question the validity of patents before and after they are granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, without going to court.
The US patent system is seriously out of date. Oh, heck, it's broken. It needs to be fixed before some of these patent mills bring the economy to a screeching halt.
I can say from personal experience that some patents that have been granted are so defective that they should never have seen the light of day. One in particular comes to mind.
A company I am familiar with through a third party was notified that it was being sued for patent infringement by a competitor. Once the lawyers looked over the competitor's patent, they found a major flaw: it incorporated a standard created by Bell Labs (Telcordia), in effect, patenting something that belonged to Ma Bell. Needless to say, Bell Labs was informed of this and they in turn went after our competitor. The competitor tried to say they had every right to do so, but Bell Labs had a lot more money for lawyers and over 20 years of what is called “prior art” to back up their claim.
The competitor's patent was invalidated and the infringement suit against the company was dropped.
Unfortunately that kind of scenario is becoming all too common. Someone includes someone else's patent or intellectual property into their own patent, claiming it as their own. Then they sue the other companies that have already licensed the rights from the original patent holder or intellectual property owner. Far too often the companies named in the suit pay up in order to keep their legal costs down.
It's nothing more than piracy.