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Rick Merritt
Rick Merritt
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Patent Wars: No Simple Answers

Former head of the US patent office shares his views on the so-called mobile patent wars and proposes a sound approach to standards-essential patents.

When he was head of the US patent office from 2009 to 2013, David Kappos was concerned about reports of a mobile patent war fueled by poor-quality patents. So he did a little research.



"We found at the time the [number of mobile-related patent infringement suits] were in double digits, but not in hundreds, and more than 70% of the court decisions found the patents valid, but not infringed," he said in an interview with EE Times.

"We found there was no support for [the charge of] mobile patent wars attributable to low-quality patents," said Kappos, now a partner with the firm Cravath, Swaine, & Moore LLP.

The research took just one or two staff members a month or so of intermittent effort. It's the kind of work that's needed to bring clarity to a broad range of intellectual property issues as legislators once again debate patent reform, Kappos told us.

For example, some proponents of reform claim they are victims of royalty stacking when they must license multiple patents related to smartphones.

Read the rest of this story on EE Times.

Based in San Jose, Rick writes news and analysis about the electronics industry and the engineering profession for EE Times. He is the editor of the Android, Internet of Things, Wireless/Networking, and Medical Designlines. He joined EE Times in 1992 as a Hong Kong based ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
3/19/2014 | 2:04:48 AM
Re: And another thing -- promiscuous software patents
I don't think that anyone can own math, but one should be able to own pathways you devise using that math. You can't patent the laws of aeodynamics, but you can patent an airplane based on them. And, what difference should there be in devising a physical machine from devising the same machine that only exists as interconnected matematical functions?
User Rank: Ninja
3/18/2014 | 6:21:58 PM
Re: And another thing -- promiscuous software patents
You can't patent mathematical functions. But you can patent a program that uses those functions within the software. That's entirely proper. But UI innovations? They should be copyrighted instead. That's actually better for the software developer. It's a stronger bond than a patent, and lasts effectively forever. My belief on software patents is that they should exist. It's important as, whether it's an individual or a major company, they should have control over their own work. But, I do believe that for software, 20 years is too long. As it can be easier to benefit from a software patent over a short time, than for an electronic or particularly a mechanical invention, the patent should be for a shorter time. I think 10 years would be much better. It wouldn't end contention, but would force patent owners to attempt to use it earlier, and for others, it would make the wait less onerous.
User Rank: Author
3/18/2014 | 6:12:48 PM
Re: And another thing -- promiscuous software patents
I second Charlie's motion: Software patents should be granted, and their inventors rewarded, only if their inventions build legitimately on top of, without absorbing, the basic underlying math.

Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
3/18/2014 | 1:12:45 PM
And another thing -- promiscuous software patents
Another issue that's hard to address is setting a higher bar for when software patents are issued. In the physical world, it's easier to decide if a machine or mechanical function or chemical reaction is new and innovative. In the world of software function and algorithms, the courts should set a stricter standard that no one owns the math, basic algorithms, user interface functions or programming procedures of computing software. They originate from many prior art contributors and should be part of the public trust, available to all. To profit from them, you need to innovate and design on top of them, not own the math.
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