Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Patents -- Tech's Cold War (Except These Missiles Are Being Deployed)

If you are in the tech/digital media business, then you have internalized the seemingly daily barrage of massive new patent deals in which virtually all tech titans (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Yahoo!, Motorola) gobble up (or spit out) hundreds, if not thousands, of patents in order to build (or monetize) their IP arsenal.  Motivations in this IP Armageddon are both offensive and defensive.  And, where this kind of activity until only relatively recently was the province primarily of smaller IP trolls/terrorists (take your pick of the appropriate term), it now represents mainstream -- nay, fundamentally strategic -- behavior by technology companies across the board.  Patents are the new tech Cold War -- nuclear winter potential from patent missiles aimed at one another.  And, accordingly, individual

The only difference here, however, is that these patent missiles are increasingly being deployed -- and, to great -- if not disturbing -- effect.

Case in point -- Germany -- in which a German judge ruled against Microsoft (and in favor of Motorola Mobility), ordering Microsoft to remove Xbox 360 gaming consoles and Windows 7 operating system software from the German market.

Do these rulings foster or stifle innovation?  Well, just think about the literally billions of dollars being spent to acquire patents -- and hundreds of millions (billions?) more spent in litigation.  And, just think about how those resources instead could have been used in tech R&D to expand innovation and add tech jobs.  This isn't too much different than the real Cold War, in which billions of dollars were invested in missiles and war games rather than to directly benefit individuals in productive pursuits (like education).

And, there is no sign that any of this will abate any time soon ....