NPR has covered software patents and the topic is in the news daily. Proving that point today, Google wrote about software patents and the current on-going patent wars that are plaguing the Google Android system in When patents attack Android.
Google is airing out the dirty laundry and spilling the beans that Microsoft and Apple, after forming a group to outbid Google for Nortel’s patents, are colluding to increase licensing costs for Android beyond the cost of Windows Mobile.
They’re doing this by banding together to acquire Novell’s old patents (the “CPTN” group including Microsoft and Apple) and Nortel’s old patents (the “Rockstar” group including Microsoft and Apple), to make sure Google didn’t get them; seeking $15 licensing fees for every Android device; attempting to make it more expensive for phone manufacturers to license Android (which we provide free of charge) than Windows Mobile; and even suing Barnes & Noble, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung. Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it.
Google has purchased lots of patents lately as well but claims they’re doing so for defensive reasons.
This anti-competitive strategy is also escalating the cost of patents way beyond what they’re really worth. Microsoft and Apple’s winning $4.5 billion for Nortel’s patent portfolio was nearly five times larger than the pre-auction estimate of $1 billion. Fortunately, the law frowns on the accumulation of dubious patents for anti-competitive means — which means these deals are likely to draw regulatory scrutiny, and this patent bubble will pop.
The news is covering the problems with software patents and Google is calling it out as stifling innovation. Will anything be done to change the system so simple gestures like using a modal dialog box to confirm exit aren’t patented?
We’re not naive; technology is a tough and ever-changing industry and we work very hard to stay focused on our own business and make better products. But in this instance we thought it was important to speak out and make it clear that we’re determined to preserve Android as a competitive choice for consumers, by stopping those who are trying to strangle it.
We’re looking intensely at a number of ways to do that. We’re encouraged that the Department of Justice forced the group I mentioned earlier to license the former Novell patents on fair terms, and that it’s looking into whether Microsoft and Apple acquired the Nortel patents for anti-competitive means. We’re also looking at other ways to reduce the anti-competitive threats against Android by strengthening our own patent portfolio. Unless we act, consumers could face rising costs for Android devices — and fewer choices for their next phone.
I guess the answer right now, is “not yet”. Patent trolls are still succeeding and making money by taking settlements instead of winning through court. Right now the monetary incentive is not leveled towards fighting patents and high licensing costs for common sense applications, so we may have to wait for the “patent bubble” to indeed burst before we see another round of technology innovation from small guys that can’t afford billions of dollars in patents.