Hanes HallbirnWednesday,12 December 2012

The Snap:

Patent portfolios have become potent weapons for large technology companies, and are often used to keep the peace between major powers. Sometimes, however, full-blown wars break out (see the recent fights between Apple/Samsung, Apple/HTC and Facebook/Yahoo as examples). But at least those fights often pit true innovators — companies that create amazing new products — against one another, and involve actual products that improve the lives of scores of consumers.  Other times, however, lawsuits are filed by patent trolls in order to extort deep-pocketed corporations. These cases harm innovators, limit consumer choice, and do little to enrich any lives — save those of the lawyers representing each firm (and they can shove it, quite frankly).

The Download:

While there is little reason to believe that massive overhauls of the U.S. patent system are on the horizon, there is a glimmer of hope. On Friday, a group of technology companies, including Facebook, Dell, Google and Zynga, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. State Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, on the case of CLS Bank v. Alice Corp. The cosigning companies (Apple is noticeably absent, ahem) are seeking to preempt future lawsuits based on patents with overly broad or vague language, and are asking the Court of Appeals to throw out patents pertaining to the case.

Although I don’t know the technical details at issue in the CLS Bank v. Alice Corp case, I can say one thing with certainty: technology patents are in dire need of a “use it or lose it” standard. It’s simply unreasonable to permit broad ideas — or, for that matter, incredibly detailed concepts that sit, collecting figurative dust on a company’s hard drive of legally-protected inventions — to constrain innovators who take actual risks and stick their necks out to fund and implement their inventions. The “I thought about that before you did, and filed some related paperwork, even though I never built a working prototype or fired up a production line” defense should not be allowed to stand. The USPTO needs to set standardized periods for various patent categories, in which inventors either bring their ideas to market or lose all rights associated with some papers they drew up years ago.

But sadly, I doubt such a standard will ever be set, regardless of the outcome of the amicus brief mentioned above. And so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to file some papers related “exchange of binary and non-binary data across planetary boundaries, between human inhabitants, into computer-based interfaces.” I might even attach a drawing with two spheres, complete with arrows representing some vague sort of transfer between the two bodies. NASA is gonna owe me big time when we send humans on Mars. Suckers!

Hat Tips:

TechCrunch, CNET, Image Credit: Flickr

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