If Android is an operating system developed by Google, why should Samsung pay $15 per device to Microsoft? And why is HTC already paying $5 per device to Microsoft? Now these are all valid questions. It really doesn’t make any sense for Samsung to pay $15 per Android device sold to Microsoft. At least not to us. For a good proportion of folks this makes perfect sense. These things which are making companies pay other companies are called patents. This is how intellectual property is protected. This is how a developer’s work isn’t stolen too. This is how ideas are respected. Or that’s what we were told. Welcome to the world of patents or as we now call Patent troll.
Software patents can be best described by a IBM-Sun Microsystem’s story :
Bunch of blue suits from IBM has apparently walked to the then startup called Sun Microsystems and told Sun engineers that Sun has infringed on 7 of IBM’s software patents. Those 7 patents aren’t something which Sun hasn’t infringed. Sun engineers vehemently rejected. That’s when the blue suits of IBM made this polite gesture :
“maybe you don’t infringe these seven patents. But we have 10,000 U.S. patents. Do you really want us to go back to Armonk [IBM headquarters in New York] and find seven patents you do infringe? Or do you want to make this easy and just pay us $20 million?” After a modest bit of negotiation, Sun cut IBM a check, and the blue suits went to the next company on their hit list.
That IBM-Sun story pretty much sums up what we are now seeing. The color of the suits might differ but the patent trolls and the threat remain the same. Last two months have seen a bunch of patent stories.
- Apple has agreed to drop all lawsuits against Nokia and also agreed to pay royalties.
- HTC is paying Microsoft for using Android which infringes on Microsoft’s patents.
- Velocity Micro, Onkyo and General Dynamics have all agreed to pay royalties to Microsoft for using Android.
- Lodsys, a patent aggregator, is suing more than 30 companies for infringing on a patent which they own. The patent : “Purchases made from a smartphone app”
- Kootol, an Indian company, has sent a notice to all the top technology companies in the northern hemisphere for a patent which is approved but not awarded.
Those are just the happenings in the last two months. The news is, many more such patents will come in the near future. One biggest patent troll everybody’s closely watching is Oracle vs Google over the use of Java in Android. So far, Oracle has a upper hand in this as Google hasn’t been tactical. If Oracle reins in over Google, there’s no stopping it from going after every Android gadget manufacturers in the world.
Android has more lawsuits than patents.
Most of the software patents are stupid. Some are outrageous and the rest fall in to the ridiculous category. Do you know that there’s a patent for the pop-up which you see when you hover your mouse on a particular link? There are more than 5000 patents for the concept of a balloon tip popping up on your computer which says that you have a new version of software available. Yeah! That’s how stupid most of the software patents are.
There’s no way every company would have the knowledge of all the patents. True. That’s the reason why companies like Lodsys and Oasis research exist. In this excellent NPR article, authors follow the patent trail and point all the trials coming out of Marshall, Texas. Companies like Lodsys have only one agenda : Accumulate as many independent patents as they can and sue as many big companies as they can. Oasis Research has amassed a whopping 30,000 patents to just to sue companies every day. All of this cannot be good for software developers.
Patents have software developers and startup companies in the fix. You can’t write 100 lines of code to do something without actually infringing on a patent. That’s how ridiculous this whole patent game has gotten to. Patents which are supposed to protect and foster innovation are hindering it. Big companies will survive the patent onslaught because they either have the money or a patent chest to deal with them. Smaller companies and independent developers have to either fold up or sign silly agreements and share the profits. That only means one thing : There will not be any hot tech startups, just hot patent aggregators. Lodsys and Kootol will go for an IPO instead of Groupon and LinkedIn.
From “It’s the patent, stupid” we are moving to "It’s the stupid patent”. Cruel word play.