You know, when I first learned about patents back when I was more vertically challenged, I thought it was a cool idea that could be used to give credit to the ideas used in a product. Perhaps your friend invents a new bicycle chain mechanism and you pay him for the license to use it in your bike design that you hope to sell to your friends at school who are too lazy to walk (pitch line: “Now you can sit on your bum and actually go somewhere this time!).
All you have to do it list his patent number in your “Licenses Used” section and according to your agreement you either pay him a cut of your sales per bike or a lump sum at the beginning of development of the bike. Ideas, especially original ones are expensive and hard to come by these days (ask EA to see how they keep on adding more and more sequels to the COD series). But what happens when people patent the mere implementation of things that aren’t really tangible? License for patent trolling, that’s what.
Today the United States International Trade Commission banned the importing of Motorola handsets onto American soil following a ruling that Motorola was infringing on one of nine patents the Redmond-based giant tried to bring against it. The patent in question applies to software that creates meeting schedules and requests on mobile phones. Apparently the similarity is close enough that the Trade Commission deemed it necessary to halt all imports and charge a fine of 33 Dollar-cents for each phone that has entered into the US that infringed the patents. Some people have pointed out online that this could stretch across five or six families of phones, each with two-and-a-half million or more sales. Go on, launch your calculators and check how much that could add up to. I’ll wait. In case you’re struggling, its around $5 million or approximately R36 million.
Its a lot of money even for such a ludicrous ruling like this one. Patents are meant for tangible intellectual property like inventions, not links to designs seen in a TV series over forty years prior, or lines of code that could be used to fool a court consisting entirely of non-programmers that this and this software looks too much alike and does much the same thing under the hood, therefore under the rightly ambiguous utility patent’s rules a ban must be imposed on the other one because X company patented this silly thing long before anyone else. No, we won’t be nice and license it out.
Google bought out Motorola last year in anticipation of a major patent troll roll by Microsoft and Apple that could bring the Android ecosystem down with legal troubles. Stifling the competition with legal troubles while you curb the customer’s choice isn’t the best way to play this game of “Win the consumer’s money.” Granted, these companies are in a market space where their money and their investor’s money is being used to create products that people can buy and use. If they can protect that cash flow in any way possible, then that’s what they’re going to do.
I’m tired of hearing another story of how corporate companies are trying to keep the money and market share for themselves and in the process hurting the honest intentions and ability of the consumer to make a purchase choice without being preyed on (the companies can fight amongst each other so long as they leave us out of it, I don’t mind). Stopping second-hand game sales hurts smaller companies that rely on the economy created by people who can’t afford new stuff all the time. DRM sometimes hurts legitimate users and doesn’t always work in most cases with limited internet connectivity. Music record labels and their regulatory bodies try to massively bankrupt and make examples of individuals who share music online, or target Torrent and peer-to-peer services that they rather could have embraced at the turn of the digital era, drawing abreast with competing services like iTunes, Microsoft Zune, Nokia music and Ubuntu One. Apple themselves proved with the iPod that the public favoured convenience over a lower price tag.
The artists and bands only want their stuff to be heard and liked, after all. As it is, most of the money from CD sales goes to the label anyway. The band gets their major cuts from tours and shows. But in any case, my whining won’t help me or you and it certainly won’t help the problem facing Motorola now because its guaranteed that its something within Google’s Android OS that needs to be changed.
The ruling has a 60-day Presidential review, during which time Obama and his administration must decide whether or not this ban should go through. I’m hoping they see sense and throw this out, asking Microsoft to instead license its patent rather than be the bigger bully.
Update: Turns out the ban affects eighteen of Motorola’s phones currently sold in the US across all networks. New handsets will continue to be sold, but at a 33% add-on fee per unit.
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