You don’t have to be a constant reader of this blog to know that tech companies, especially hardware companies, go to court frequently over patent disputes. The way the patent system is set up currently, it’s very easy to step on somebody’s intellectual property toast. In fact, it’s almost inevitable. You can even come up with a seemingly good idea without bumping into a similar-sounding idea patented by somebody else in the past. Why is this? The truth is most companies do defensive patenting. In other words, they patent ideas or prototypes, even if they are not going to be actually manufacturing the product that incorporates that idea. They do this to gain leverage in the future if they decide to move in that direction or in some cases make money off the patent. This has happened several times. In fact, there are specific companies whose business model simply involves buying patent portfolios and then suing companies that do something vaguely similar to activities covered by such patents. These companies are called patent trolls. Well, the lives of patent trolls might soon be over, thanks to legislation that is currently winding its way to the United States Congress.
Up until that time, however, there are still a lot of patent actions happening in the court system. One sign of hope is the recent agreement by Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer, HTC, and veteran mobile phone heavyweight, Nokia, to bury the hatchet in regard to their patent dispute. We don’t know how much of Nokia’s decision is informed by the fact that Nokia just got bought out by Microsoft. However, we do know that by agreeing to just get into deals and licensing from each other and basically burying the hatchet, this could be a good thing for the technology landscape. Let’s face it. Nothing harms the roll out of technology than uncertainty. And if you’re looking for a source of uncertainty, it is definitely patent litigation. There have been lots of very encouraging moves lately. The settlement between Twitter and IBM is one and among as well as the settlement between Google and Samsung. We can hope that this is all part of a broader pattern where technology companies should just focus on innovating instead of using the legal system for a cheap tactical advantage.