IT Pro

Need for global fix patently obvious

Leading technology companies have launched a website to help fix a global patent system that they say stifles innovation.

Patent Progress, under the umbrella of the Computer & Communications Industry Association lobby group, aims to lead enterprises and individuals struggling with the patent litigation and policy landscape.

''There is certainly a problem,'' said Joshua Lamel, executive director, Foundation for Innovation and Internet Freedom, and a CCIA vice-president.

The group includes Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and eBay among its members.

''Between the smartphone patent wars and the continual growth of the [patent] troll problem we wanted to try and create a place where we could move the debate forward towards a more innovative patent system,'' Mr Lamel said.

The tech industry has been racked by brutal patent battles including a showdown between giants Apple and Samsung over smartphone and tablet technology waged in courtrooms around the world.

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The Federal Trade Commission in the United States has also launched an investigation into Google holding potentially restrictive patents on communication and data technologies considered to be key in the basic operation of smartphones and tablets.

''Last year both Google and Apple spent more on acquiring patents for defensive purposes than they did on research and development,'' Mr Lamel said. ''That is not right.''

Lamel said that one of CCIA's member companies claimed 100 engineering jobs had recently been lost because of patent litigation. ''That is a big deal,'' he said.

In a situation echoing US and Soviet Union fears over mutual nuclear destruction during the Cold War, tech giants previously honoured an unwritten agreement to not sue each other over patents fearing an industry shutdown.

''[Apple co-founder] Steve Jobs irrevocably changed that when he declared war on Android,'' Mr Lamel said. ''That has created massive large-scale litigations that cost a lot of money, harm consumers, potentially limit choice in the market, and frustrate innovation.''

Mr Lamel also highlighted the problem of ''patent trolls'', where an entity sues for supposed patent breaches in a bid to squeeze a profitable cash settlement. Often, trolls do not produce or sell anything and so litigate without fear of retaliation.

''The cost of the suit to the company in legal fees and the economic value of making it go away creates a mill that it is actually in the interest of the company getting sued to settle,'' explained Mr Lamel.

''They save money by settling and then the troll makes money. A study shows that patent troll cost the industry $29 billion. That is a staggering number.''

Mr Lamel said Patent Progress aims to elevate debate to find workable solutions that may benefit future innovation.

''Patents are supposed to be about creation and innovation and not property,'' Mr Lamel said. ''But not all patents are innovative and in the wrong hands they can be highly anti-innovative. They are a restriction, a tax and a regulation. We want to remind people of that.

''Tech suffers by far the most in industry and it is absolutely a global issue,'' he said. ''We really want to have an open dialogue and conversation around what the solutions should be.''

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