Saturday, February 11, 2006

Patents Gone Wild

The US Patent Office is in need of a serious lobotomy. There was the JPEG patent claim that resulted in millions being paid out to Forgent. The latest claim comes from AT&T, covering core MPEG-4 technology. And in the last few weeks, RIM has been battling with NTP over patents that cover -- ridiculously -- where email is temporarily stored when a BlackBerry is outside coverage area. Thankfully, RIM seems to have developed a workaround that should allow it to continue doing business, while giving NTP the finger.

I have no love for patent speculating companies. They do nothing but sit like vultures waiting to deploy their army of hungry lawyers. The problem has gotten so bad in recent years, that now some of the silliest processes, concepts and technologies are being patented by large corporations. While some of those companies may be trying to curtail future patent suits by locking up generally understood concepts, the practice could prove potentially harmful for industry. For instance -- who's to say that the benevolent ideals of today won't turn nefarious under different management and circumstances in the future? And what if the license fees for some of the basic concepts prove unreachable for startups? Innovation and growth could be stymied.

The US Patent Office (and their ilk around the world) are in serious need of lobotomies. If only governments would develop the intestinal fortitude to stand up to business and lawyer interests, and instead focus on the economic viability of their nations.

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