Interesting new paper on the cost of Patent Trolls in the US.
In the past, “non-practicing entities” (NPEs), popularly known as “patent trolls,” have helped small inventors profit from their inventions. Is this true today or, given the unprecedented levels of NPE litigation, do NPEs reduce innovation incentives? Using a survey of defendants and a database of litigation, this paper estimates the direct costs to defendants arising from NPE patent assertions. We estimate that firms accrued $29 billion of direct costs in 2011. Moreover, although large firms accrued over half of direct costs, most of the defendants were small or medium-sized firms, indicating that NPEs are not just a problem for large firms.
For reference, $29 billion is more than NASA’s budget ($19 billion in the same time period). This is a huge problem that has real impacts on our economy and our recovery.
From This American Life’s latest show:
In early July, the bankrupt tech company Nortel put its 6,000 patents up for auction as part of a liquidation. A bidding war broke out among Silicon Valley powerhouses. Google said it wanted the patents purely to defend against lawsuits and it was willing to spend over $3 billion to get them. That wasn’t enough, though.
The portfolio eventually sold to Apple and a consortium of other tech companies including Microsoft and Ericsson. The price tag: $4.5 billion dollars. Five times the opening bid. More than double what most people involved were expecting. The largest patent auction in history.
That’s $4.5 billion on patents that these companies almost certainly don’t want for their technical secrets. That $4.5 billion won’t build anything new, won’t bring new products to the shelves, won’t open up new factories that can hire people who need jobs. That’s $4.5 billion dollars that adds to the price of every product these companies sell you. That’s $4.5 billion dollars buying arms for an ongoing patent war.
The big companies — Google, Apple, Microsoft — will probably survive. The likely casualties are the companies out there now that no one’s ever heard of that could one day take their place.
This American Life did a bang up job taking Intellectual Ventures to task this weekend for basically being in the mafia business. It’s a pretty amazing story, especially when they try to find one of the “protected inventors” that IV claims it helped out. Well worth listening to.
“Would you like to play a game?”
It looks like the software patent cold war that we were in is over, and we’re now moving into a software patent hot war. Ars Technica has a piece on Paul Allen’s IP holding company suing 11 big internet giants. This comes after a number of large patent suits, including Oracle v Google, Nokia v Apple, Apple v HTC.
I’m hoping that we actually get another case in front of the supreme court for them to rethink punting on deciding on software patents.
Oracle was the opening keynote for Linuxcon this year, where they talked about how much they did for Linux and open source. The moment everyone had checked out of their hotel in Boston, they filed a massive patent suit against Google’s open source java like implementation in Android. Oracle, you can suck it.
This has led to a lot of virtual ink in the blogosphere on the subject, and you can see that for the most part, we all sit inside our tech valleys, unable to see the wider world over the hills. This is especially true for folks that have worked in the same kind of tech for a long time. Charles Nutter provides a really good background on what the Java space looks like, and gives his own thoughts on the matter. Much like Linux, Java is really just about everywhere, some times in surprising places.
The Java platform is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. And by big, I mean it’s everywhere.
There are three mainstream JVMs people know about: JRockit (WebLogic’s first and then Oracle’s after it acquired them), Hotspot (Which came to Sun through an acquisition and eventually became OpenJDK), and J9 (IBM’s own JVM, fully-licensed and with all its shots). Upon those three JVMs lives a gigantic world. If you want the details, there’s numerous studies and reports about the use of Java in all manner of business, from the hippest new startups (Twitter recently switched much of their stack to the JVM) to the oldest of the old financial concerns. It’s the favored choice for government server applications, the strongest not-quite-completely-Free managed runtime for open-source libraries and applications, and now with Android it’s rapidly becoming one of the strongest (if not the strongest) mobile OS platform (even though Android isn’t *really* Java, as I’ll get into later). You may love or hate Java, but I guarantee it’s part of your life in some way or another.
It’s a long read, but well worth your time. The why people hate Java section is particularly useful for people that hate Java. It may or may not change your mind, but it will at least give you a broader view.
Ars Technica has a great article on the history of the telescope. But there was something entirely non astronomy related that struck me:
In 1608, Hans Lipperhey in the Netherlands applied for a patent on a pair of lenses, one with a much shorter focal length than the other, arranged in a tube. He called it a “spyglass” as it allowed the observation of greatly distant events from a secluded retreat—Lipperhey noted that counting coins from afar was a suitable use. The patent was denied because the device was so very easily constructed.
The big breakthrough came when Galileo was informed of Lipperhey’s failure to secure a patent. He was certainly aware of the Venetian prowess in lens grinding, as well as work in optics that Kepler had done. Galileo decided to make such a device for himself, inspired by a mixture of Renaissance gung-ho and a desire to make his name. Presumably, he reasoned that a device able to magnify distant objects would also minimize the uncertainty in their position, providing an improved version of the wall quadrant.
That’s a frightening thought, and one I hadn’t known before. Had that patent been granted, we may never have had the revolution in science in 1609, because Galileo wouldn’t have jumped into the telescope manufacturing business. That work is what sealed the fate of the geocentric solar system, and became a great leap forward for all physical sciences.
NYTimes has an decent article on some of the data sharing rules around science in general, and the Kepler mission in specific. The Kepler team wants an extra 6 month embargo on data sharing because there were some delays in getting rolling.
Compare and contrast the 12 month embargo on data sharing, and the fact that extending it to 18 months is enough to warrent a Times article vs. the 17 year exclusivity of software algorithms. I wish people would get more riled up about the later.
NEW YORK – Patents on genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer are invalid, ruled a New York federal court today. The precedent-setting ruling marks the first time a court has found patents on genes unlawful and calls into question the validity of patents now held on approximately 2,000 human genes. The ruling follows a lawsuit brought by a group of patients and scientists represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), a not-for-profit organization affiliated with Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the free flow of ideas in scientific research,” said Chris Hansen, a staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. “The human genome, like the structure of blood, air or water, was discovered, not created. There is an endless amount of information on genes that begs for further discovery, and gene patents put up unacceptable barriers to the free exchange of ideas.”
I’m sure this is going to end up in the supreme court eventually, but for today I’ll take this as a small victory for sanity when it comes to intellectual property.