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Author Topic: Is Google's patent acquisitioning right?  (Read 8113 times)

Offline graham.d

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Is Google's patent acquisitioning right?
« on: 18/08/2011 16:06:14 »
Google have put in an offer for Motorola Mobility of $12.5B. The prime reason for this is to buy the 17,000 patents that Motorola have accumulated over the years and so they can defend future threats from Apple or Microsoft. It has been suggested that Microsoft may try to buy Nokia as a result - both companies would like to get some of Apple's business.

Now I don't have any sympathy for Motorola here as they have used the patent system as a means of maintaining their superiority in the US market for years. Of course this is the way the game is played. It is reckoned that to be a major player in the mobile phone business you have to have 20,000+ patents. It does not matter much whether they are valid or truly defendable from an engineering perspective; if you can afford the lawyers, you can win. In fact nobody takes you on as the only winner would be a bunch of law firms.

I know I have had a rant (err a discussion) about this before, but does anyone else think this is not actually what the original intention of patents was really about?


 

Offline Geezer

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« Reply #1 on: 18/08/2011 16:50:22 »
It may not be, but how would you propose to change the system?
 

Offline graham.d

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« Reply #2 on: 18/08/2011 17:13:30 »
1. Shorten the time for which patent restrictions are in place. The world moves a lot faster than it did in the 19th century. The patents hold back competition rather than encourage developments.
2. Encourage a more universal set of rules rather than those designed by a particular country to mean that it's citizens can exploit those in other countries but not the other way around.
3. Have a peer review as to the validity of patents that is more thorough and precise (even if it costs more) than the current search for prior art by people who don't know anything like enough about the specialist field in which the patent applies. In electronics I reckon the 90% of patents are not valid but the granting of such patents means the onus is then on someone to prove this or take a risk. Against a big company this is very costly.
4. Make the speedy development of products that exploit new ideas be the winner rather than someone siting on methods of rerstricting others from developing the ideas.

There are probably a whole lot more!
 

Offline Geezer

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« Reply #3 on: 18/08/2011 17:18:21 »
1. Shorten the time for which patent restrictions are in place. The world moves a lot faster than it did in the 19th century. The patents hold back competition rather than encourage developments.
2. Encourage a more universal set of rules rather than those designed by a particular country to mean that it's citizens can exploit those in other countries but not the other way around.
3. Have a peer review as to the validity of patents that is more thorough and precise (even if it costs more) than the current search for prior art by people who don't know anything like enough about the specialist field in which the patent applies. In electronics I reckon the 90% of patents are not valid but the granting of such patents means the onus is then on someone to prove this or take a risk. Against a big company this is very costly.
4. Make the speedy development of products that exploit new ideas be the winner rather than someone siting on methods of rerstricting others from developing the ideas.

There are probably a whole lot more!

Well, I don't know about you, but I patent my own inventions (not for a large corporation), and those rules would put me out of business  :D
 

Offline CliffordK

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« Reply #4 on: 18/08/2011 17:25:22 »
I can't imagine that if 3 mobile phone companies each held 20,000 patents on their device, then there wouldn't be some kind of overlap between the three.

I'm not sure how one would "fix" the system, or whether it even needs fixing.  But, here are some thoughts.

  • We need a better way to get research and patents into the public domain.  I.E. encourage the creation of public domain patents.
  • There needs to be a separation between conceptual patents, and patents that are part of a specific marketable device.
  • Any device should list the applicable patents on the device in a readable font (try that with 20,000 mobile phone patents)
  • There has to be a separation between a general process, and a specific implementation of that process.  For example, a hybrid car consists of a battery reserve, and an electric motor coupled with an internal combustion engine.  That should not have a patent (and has been something discussed for a half a century).  However perhaps the specific implementation of this might receive a patent.  

 

Offline graham.d

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« Reply #5 on: 18/08/2011 17:49:14 »
1. Shorten the time for which patent restrictions are in place. The world moves a lot faster than it did in the 19th century. The patents hold back competition rather than encourage developments.
2. Encourage a more universal set of rules rather than those designed by a particular country to mean that it's citizens can exploit those in other countries but not the other way around.
3. Have a peer review as to the validity of patents that is more thorough and precise (even if it costs more) than the current search for prior art by people who don't know anything like enough about the specialist field in which the patent applies. In electronics I reckon the 90% of patents are not valid but the granting of such patents means the onus is then on someone to prove this or take a risk. Against a big company this is very costly.
4. Make the speedy development of products that exploit new ideas be the winner rather than someone siting on methods of rerstricting others from developing the ideas.

There are probably a whole lot more!

Well, I don't know about you, but I patent my own inventions (not for a large corporation), and those rules would put me out of business  :D

I don't see why. But if so, maybe you should be :-)

There are companies in the semiconductor business whose sole method of operation is to gather patents then reverse engineer designs to see if they violate any. They then sue the company. Very often a development is independently designed (which is just too bad), but often the patent is invalid but it is not worthwhile to pursue it and cheaper to pay them off out of court. My point is that, by and large, the patent system slows down or prevents developments, which is bad for the world. It was intended to protect the small inventor and give time for him to productionise his ideas. The facts of what happens are far removed from that.
 

Offline Geezer

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« Reply #6 on: 19/08/2011 08:37:15 »
I don't see why. But if so, maybe you should be :-)

How charming of you to point that out.

Quote
There are companies in the semiconductor business whose sole method of operation is to gather patents then reverse engineer designs to see if they violate any.

If the engineers who created those designs were doing what they are supposed to do, they would have been aware that their proposed design infringes an existing patent, or patent application. It wasn't always the case, but these days it's really quite easy to do a search of the prior art. 

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They then sue the company. Very often a development is independently designed (which is just too bad),

Well, yes. It is too bad, particularly if the designer could have saved a lot of time and effort by taking a minute to discover that his/her invention was not original.

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but often the patent is invalid but it is not worthwhile to pursue it and cheaper to pay them off out of court

I've heard that argument often, and I'm not buying it. If the "new" invention is really novel, and there is solid support for that argument, lawyers won't settle. 

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My point is that, by and large, the patent system slows down or prevents developments, which is bad for the world.

I don't see that at all. The only way you can get a patent is to publish what it is you are trying to patent. That information is all in the public domain, and because we are all on the Internet, it's now incredibly easy to access that information (it used to be a pain in the neck).

This actually accelerates developments. It's really quite simple to find out if a competitor is ahead, in which case try to figure out how to get ahead of them.   

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It was intended to protect the small inventor and give time for him to productionise his ideas. The facts of what happens are far removed from that.

I'm not sure the size of the inventor has anything to do with it. It's about innovation, and, as you full well know, the costs of innovation in the semiconductor field are enormous. If a company invests vast amounts of capital in a new invention, why should they not be granted the time to at least recover their investment?

I'm sure there are some issues with the patent process that need to be addressed, but, frankly, I believe the biggest problem is that too many engineers try to ignore its existence.
 

Offline graham.d

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« Reply #7 on: 19/08/2011 10:01:43 »
None of the suggestions I made abolish patents. They just try to bring the system into line with what is intended. I hold a few patents myself so I am not wholly against the concept, just its current usage. Years ago I was involved in one of these tit-for-tat patent battles between two large corporations. It was a huge waste of time and money and was settled out of court with a nominal gift from one company to the other of $6M. I was involved in checking out the patents' validity and examining prior art by reverse engineering lots of other companies' devices. Almost every other company making MOS devices used the same manufacturing method but it also was not clear that the patent actually covered this technique. It was just going to cost more to defend than to pay up. This is not untypical.
 

Offline Geezer

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« Reply #8 on: 19/08/2011 17:09:00 »
Anyway, back to your original rant question:

If Motorola invested heavily in generating patents, why should its shareholders not benefit from the sale of that intellectual property? A possible objection might be if it gave Google a monopoly, but I don't think that is the case.
 

Offline imatfaal

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« Reply #9 on: 19/08/2011 19:07:26 »
has anyone else noticed how Geezer loses his cuddly diplomatic side and turns into (even more of) an attack dog when patents are mentioned :-)

Now a decent proportion of my family depends on the patent system so I am not complaining - just commenting
 

Offline graham.d

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« Reply #10 on: 19/08/2011 20:43:18 »
Anyway, back to your original rant question:

If Motorola invested heavily in generating patents, why should its shareholders not benefit from the sale of that intellectual property? A possible objection might be if it gave Google a monopoly, but I don't think that is the case.

No problem in principle. The problem is that behemoth companies that invest in patents do so to control an industry and deter competition. It is a sort of back-door monopoly. Where genuine invention is involved, it is reasonable to defend this. But there are too many patents that are granted that are invalid because of prior art or because the invention is an obvious modification (to anyone versed in the art) to an existing concept. The disclosures are written, in many cases, so as to be difficult to challenge; they are often not easily understood because of the arcane (and archaic) way they are written. I have seen a Schmitt Trigger invented numerous times. They are not valid but many companies would think twice about challenging Mororola, for example, with such a case. They are packed with able and expensive lawyers. The rectitude of their case is often not relevent. Anyway, I don't mean to pick on Motorola especially; they have had relatively hard times recently.

It is not even good for these big companies who are compelled to gather 1000's of patents to act as a deterrent to being sued by a competitor. There is nothing like a potential counter claim to put off such an action. Google don't want to buy Motorola Mobility for its great market positioning, its excellent design or marketing team or even its product range; they just want a whole load of patents to use as a big defensive stick. I don't think this is good for the world in general. 20 year patents in electronics is far too long.
 

Offline Geezer

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« Reply #11 on: 20/08/2011 00:59:11 »
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The problem is that behemoth companies that invest in patents do so to control an industry and deter competition. It is a sort of back-door monopoly.

Sounds like what all businesses try to do, but in the process they are revealing a great deal of information about what they are working on which actually helps the competition. If they "keep it up their sleeves", there is a risk that someone else will beat them to the punch, and, I understand, there is a move afoot to make the "filing date" the only thing that matters, which I personally think is a good thing.   

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there are too many patents that are granted that are invalid because of prior art or because the invention is an obvious modification (to anyone versed in the art) to an existing concept.

Are you sure they are invalid? I have not seen very many that are, although I have seen a lot that are almost useless because they don't really claim anything novel, probably because an examiner disallowed all the claims that tried to claim prior art.

There is nothing wrong with claiming a modification as long as it is an improvement to a prior invention (you can't patent a concept). In fact, if you patent a significant improvement on a patent owned by Juggernauts-R-us, they will take you seriously and they will license your patent (if you made sure your claims are watertight). 

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The disclosures are written, in many cases, so as to be difficult to challenge; they are often not easily understood because of the arcane (and archaic) way they are written.

Yes, they can be difficult to understand, although I think the obfuscation is less intentional and more a consequence of a lot of other factors. When it comes to "challenging", it really boils down to what is in the claims. For that reason, the claims are written in a particular legal style according to some fairly strict rules. All the "stuff" that precedes the claims is really just a justification for what is in the claims. Noboby is awarding points for the academic brilliance of the technical description, although a good description might make a patent more marketable. 

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I have seen a Schmitt Trigger invented numerous times. They are not valid but many companies would think twice about challenging Motorola, for example, with such a case.

There is nothing wrong with reinventing the Schmitt Trigger, as long as each iteration includes some improvement over the prior art. It's hard to dispute your statement without specific examples, but based on my experience, if you study the claims carefully, you will discover that, although a Schmitt Trigger was described in the patent, the only thing that was actually claimed was an improvement in the process of its implementation.

However, if you can provide an example of a case where Juggernauts-R-us actually got away with patenting the Schmitt Trigger so that they can prevent me from using said device, I know some people who would be very interested in seeing that, because they will be more than happy to take Juggernauts-R-us to the cleaners.

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Google don't want to buy Motorola Mobility for its great market positioning, its excellent design or marketing team or even its product range; they just want a whole load of patents to use as a big defensive stick.

But that's the whole point! They are trying to bust what might otherwise be a monopoly, and, at least, Motorola's shareholders are the beneficiaries in the process. Isn't it far better that MOT's IP continues making a contribution?

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20 year patents in electronics is far too long.

The shorter the period of protection is, the more it hurts the individual inventor and the more it helps Juggernauts-R-us. That seems to contradict what you said earlier.
 

Offline graham.d

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« Reply #12 on: 22/08/2011 09:16:32 »
I think we will have to agree to disagree, Geezer. My experience of 40 years in the Semiconductor Industry clearly does not stack up with your experiences. My company takes the view that we do not patent and do not infringe. That is not to say we don't make it hard for people to reverse engineer but the key thing is to be in the market quickly.

The fundamental issue is that a fair balance has to be struck between protecting IP rights for the benefit of those who invest in the R and D but to not let these become restricting to others to the extent of being in restraint of trade. This will vary depending on the business. In semiconductor design I would reckon a 10 year life is more than adequate. If you are building a new type of submarine then it may not be enough.

I would also define an invalid patent as one that does not claim anything novel. Of the many valid patents I have looked at, on more sophisticated designs than a Schmidt trigger, there maybe 20 claims but only 1 or 2 are actually valid and defensible. And this is on "good" patents.
 

Offline Geezer

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« Reply #13 on: 22/08/2011 19:21:26 »
Your 40 years trumps the 36 years I had in the industry before I was able to retire ;D  Hopefully you will be in a similar position soon.

I will bow to seniority.
 

Offline graham.d

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« Reply #14 on: 23/08/2011 08:59:00 »
Your 40 years trumps the 36 years I had in the industry before I was able to retire ;D  Hopefully you will be in a similar position soon.


It won't be long  [8D]
 

Offline Geezer

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« Reply #15 on: 23/08/2011 09:31:47 »
Your 40 years trumps the 36 years I had in the industry before I was able to retire ;D  Hopefully you will be in a similar position soon.


It won't be long  [8D]

If you can dig up some dodgy Schmitt trigger patents, we might still be able to accelerate that.
 

Offline graham.d

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« Reply #16 on: 23/08/2011 12:08:10 »
They used to appear in JSSCC every couple of months. I don't know whether JSSCC still features recent patents and I gave it up a few months ago as I don't ever have time to read it. I have several hundred back issues though! If I get time I will have a browse.
 

Offline Geezer

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« Reply #17 on: 23/08/2011 17:20:23 »
Speaking of new and improved Schmitt triggers, behold, Geezer's patented version (only kidding about the patent bit)

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=25181.msg271846#msg271846

(bet it never showed up in an IEEE pub ;D)
 

Offline Geezer

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« Reply #18 on: 24/08/2011 04:16:43 »
Funnily enough, somebody just sent me this. You might want to take a butcher's.

http://gablelaw.com/news/2011/poor%20body.pdf
 

Offline graham.d

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« Reply #19 on: 24/08/2011 09:09:28 »
Speaking of new and improved Schmitt triggers, behold, Geezer's patented version (only kidding about the patent bit)

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=25181.msg271846#msg271846

(bet it never showed up in an IEEE pub ;D)

This is a weak feedback latch though there are lots of names. Used extensively as a bus-hold (for example) where you want to ensure that the input does not float when not driven. I hope nobody has tried to patent that recently though I would not be surprised.
 

Offline graham.d

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« Reply #20 on: 24/08/2011 09:25:52 »
Funnily enough, somebody just sent me this. You might want to take a butcher's.

http://gablelaw.com/news/2011/poor%20body.pdf

I have to say I could not follow this very well in the time I have to read it. It seems to be discussing the problems of how patents are weakened by trying to claim too much as well as saying that it can often be better to avoid pictorial views which can weaken the written claims. In this particular case it is the retractable needle concept which is the good idea but it is hard to specify all the possible ways of doing that in sufficient detail to prevent others from having variants that use the same concept. Is that right??
 
 

Offline Geezer

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« Reply #21 on: 24/08/2011 17:51:26 »
Funnily enough, somebody just sent me this. You might want to take a butcher's.

http://gablelaw.com/news/2011/poor%20body.pdf

I have to say I could not follow this very well in the time I have to read it. It seems to be discussing the problems of how patents are weakened by trying to claim too much as well as saying that it can often be better to avoid pictorial views which can weaken the written claims. In this particular case it is the retractable needle concept which is the good idea but it is hard to specify all the possible ways of doing that in sufficient detail to prevent others from having variants that use the same concept. Is that right??
 

It appears that the court decided to make a fundamental shift in the interpretation of the law by giving the specification priority over the claims. If that holds, it could have some profound implications.

As you point out, the result is that it makes sense to put as little detail as possible into the specification, which seems to make nonsense of the whole idea behind patents.
 

Offline Geezer

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« Reply #22 on: 24/08/2011 17:56:34 »
This is a weak feedback latch though there are lots of names. Used extensively as a bus-hold (for example) where you want to ensure that the input does not float when not driven. I hope nobody has tried to patent that recently though I would not be surprised.

Yes - I built a discrete version for that purpose in 1976  :D

(I seem to remember calling it a "rectal set flip-flop")
« Last Edit: 24/08/2011 19:59:44 by Geezer »
 

Offline qazibasit

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« Reply #23 on: 29/08/2011 10:49:18 »
these tech giants are fighting so as to be the only major player left in the industry, like google is trying to own the web, apple trying to own the microgadgets. But even if they do so they will end up making a closed system, where the customer will be left with no choice. I was reading an article and there the analyst was right in saying that assume we just have one mail server left on the internet and thats google, and only one social networking site. This is pure enslavement. Thats is the reason internet is getting boring day by day, there is nothing left for a common man to contribute. There was a time when people used to maintain their own web page and try different stuff there, but today we can only say that those good days are over now.
 

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