Beware of the Patent Trolls
September 19, 2010

Beware of the patent trolls especially in the mobile space.  Many patent trolls like NTP, Inc., a patent holding company with no website or phone number, are aggressively ennforcing their patent rights to the point of getting an injunciton to shut down infringers who refuse to take a license.
 
The patent wars are in full throttle.   On March 2, 2010, Appple sued HTC (related to Google's Android-based devices,  for 20 patent infringements related to the iPhone's user interface, underlying architecture and hardware. 
 
"We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We've decided to do something about it," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."
 
But Apple has also been on the receiving end of patent infringements.   On May 7, 2010, Nokia sued Apple, alleging the iPad 3G and iPhone infringe five patents related "enhanced speech and data transmission, using positioning data in applications and innovations in antenna configurations that improve performance and save space, allowing smaller and more compact devices."
 
On July 9, 2010, NTP filed a patent infringement suit against Apple, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft and Motorola for alleged violations of eight NTP patents for wireless email delivery.   In 2001, NTP filed a similar suit against Research in Motion, and in 2006, the suit was dismissed after RIM paid $612 million in a settlement. 
 
On August 13, 2010, Oracle sued Google for copyright and patent infringement over Android's use of Java technology.  A copy of the complaint can be read here.  
 
Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, decided that he wasn't going to sit by while other Internet companies used technology he alleges he created.  On August 27, 2010, Allen's patent research business--Interval--sued several major companies including AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube.  The reason behind the lawsuits was mainly the violation of four patents, which are “Browser for use in navigating a body of information with particular application to browsing information represented by audiovisual data,” “Attention manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device,” “Attention manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device,” and “Alerting users to items of current interest.”
 
Who is the winner with all these patent wars?  The consumer because in order for companies to compete against other companies with patents, they need to innovate.  Innovation brings new products to market that are cheaper and enhance productivity.  But what about companies like NTP, Inc. that have no product--any argument can be made that they stifle competition because they simply try and extract lucrative licensing fees and settlements by suing.  While that may be true, patent holding companies have a legal right to accumulate patents and enforce them which is all part of a laissez-faire economy.   Other companies have the right to develop their own technology that won't infringe or to license existing technology.  Either way, the consumer wins.
Posted By Justin at September 19, 2010  
   
 
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