Myhrvold on Patents
Following up yesterday's Patent discussion, I noticed that Nathan Myhrvold, who spent 14 years as Microsoft's chief technology officer, had an Op-Ed piece in the WSJ yesterday on Patents. Myhrvold explodes the myths about the danger "patent trolls."
The section I had found most intriguing was this:
"Large tech companies do amass significant portfolios, but often not directly related to their business model. If a rival company asserts a patent, a company like this plays defense and threaten the asserter's products right back. While "defense" sounds benign, what it can mean in practice is having enough patents that you can steal from anybody else with impunity. Between big companies this works like a powerful shield, much like the doctrine of mutually assured destruction with nukes. But the shield is impotent against universities, companies without products or independent inventors. Owners of large defensive portfolios hate that. (emphasis added)
That's a pretty straight forward indictment by someone who knows, right from the heart of the tech industry.
In the 14 years I served as Microsoft's first chief technology officer, I saw this firsthand across the ranks of the computer industry. Tech companies work extremely hard to use state-of-the-art technology, and either be first to market or a fast follower -- all else falls by the wayside. Big tech companies are happy to hire the best people from rivals, universities and small companies. Their employees attend conferences and study technical papers to stay on the cutting edge. But they pretend that the patents on the technology in those papers, or from universities or small companies, don't exist. Many of the largest tech companies have a standing policy that engineers are not allowed to read patents or check whether their work infringes. Why bother to look, if you know you'll find lots of infringement? Besides the cost, it's a distraction that might hurt time to market. Their strategy is simple -- damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
And the problem with this is . . .?
The trouble is, this cavalier attitude toward the law runs afoul of the rights of legitimate patent holders and the big tech companies know this. Rather than pay out a small fraction of their huge profits, they're fighting a campaign to weaken patent laws for the little guy. Some of this has taken place in Congress under the banner of "patent reform." The eBay case aims to achieve the same ends in the courts.
It's hard to go to Congress or the courts and admit that you're one of the richest companies in the world, have huge profit margins and infringe lots of valid patents held by honorable people . . . but you don't want to pay them. So naturally, these companies paint a different picture. They claim that patents are low quality; yet there is no objective evidence of this. They claim patent litigation is exploding; but the actual figures show just the opposite. There are fewer patent lawsuits than copyright, trademark or other major forms of commercial litigation. (emphasis added)
I think Myhrvold paints a pretty compelling picture -- but then again, I am biased.
Inventors Have Rights, Too!
WSJ, March 30, 2006; Page A14
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» Nathan Myhrvold on Patent Reform from Semantic Wave
Much of the online debate about patent reform has been centered on addressing the problem of information technology patent law "abusers". In his Inventors Have Rights, Too!, Nathan Myhrvold argues against the weakening of patent laws. The way he sees i... [Read More]
Tracked on Mar 31, 2006 12:58:54 PM
explodes the myths?
Posted by: Concerned | Mar 31, 2006 12:55:18 PM
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