There has been a lot of talk in the tech world lately about defensive patent licenses and eliminating patent trolls, but I wouldn’t break out the celebratory champagne just yet. As much as technology companies seem to love the idea of killing patent trolls where they sleep — in a comfy bed of intellectual property acquired with proactive litigation in mind — they don’t yet seem willing to take a real stand. And some actually seem content to keep feeding the trolls the IP morsels they need as sustenance to stick around.
If tech companies were serious about getting rid of patent trolls and spurring innovation, their first steps might be building a unified front and applying their ideals uniformly across their IP efforts. On Friday, for example, Google teamed with BlackBerry, Red Hat and EarthLink to file comments with the Federal Trade Commission about the scourge that is patent-assertion entities — institutions that get the rights to IP from operational entities (i.e., companies that actually sell products versus just sue) and then file lawsuits on their behalf. It’s a meaningful action and it addresses a real problem — Red Hat and Rackspace just emerged victorious after a lawsuit with a patent-assertion entity, in fact — but the backstory is a bit more convoluted.
For starters, a skeptic might argue, Google’s interest (and possibly BlackBerry’s, as well) is primarily about sticking it to Microsoft in mobile. After all, it wasn’t so long ago — May 2012 — that Google filed a complaint with the European Union accusing Microsoft and Nokia of engaging with a known patent-assertion entity, called Mosaid, in order to stifle the growth of the Android operating system in Europe. Before ultimately teaming up to acquire Kodak’s patents out of bankruptcy, Google accused Apple and Microsoft of teaming up to buy them and dump them into a patent-assertion entity.
Ironically, though, the very same FTC to which Google is now petitioning recently said the search giant has been abusing its own standard essential patents in mobile by pursuing injunctions against competitors who sought to license them — namely Apple and Microsoft. And BlackBerry, under its former RIM moniker, was part of an Apple and Microsoft-led consortium that bought Nortel’s IP assets in 2011, much to Google’s chagrin. I suspect these apparent hypocrisies only scratch the surface of what’s going on in mobile and across the IT landscape.
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