Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The patent economy: Leave the gun, take the cannoli

This post about Facebook winning a patent concerning the tagging of digital media, along with all the lawsuit recently filed between tech giants, now has the entire tech industry appearing more like rival gangs than rival businesses. The weapons may not be guns, but they are lawyers (there is no cannoli, just lattes).
The latest patent to enter the conversation concerns Tagging digital media and you don't have to be a techie or a lawyer to understand how the granting of this patent will effect future tech products.

Luckily, as Erik Sherman points out in his really good post on the subject, the patent doesn't cover all kinds of tagging, but now Facebook's lawyers can get started doing what they do. Further, since I am not a patent lawyer I can not express any views concerning the merits of the granting of this patent, but . . .

Nokia sues Apple, Nokia sues Samsung, Nokia sues LG, Samsung sues Apple, Apple sues Samsung, Apple sues HTC, Apple sues Amazon, LG sues Sony, Amazon sues Barnes & Noble, Microsoft sues Barnes & Noble, Dell sues Sharp, Hitachi and Toshiba, Google sues US government, RIM sues LG over the word "black". Need I go on?

Our corporate owned and run economy, protected by the courts, is better suited for the Middle Ages, not the 21st century. Until the patent laws are seriously reformed we will continue to read about the actions lawyers the way we used to read about the actions of sports figures. And yes, you'll need a scorecard to follow along.

If you don't think all this gang style warfare won't effect you let me give you two examples of how it already has.

Many years ago I heard about a new cassette recorder that used digital technology. The devices would be the perfect replacement for analog cassettes, and a great way to digitize LPs. The RIAA, however, threatened to sue any manufacturer who brought the product to market. (Later legislation was introduced at the behest of the RIAA that required DAT machines to include a chip that would detect any attempts at using these machines to copy material. The legislation, by the way, was introduced by Sen. Al Gore and Rep. Henry Waxman.)

Ultimately, the consumer DAT machine became unnecessary with the growth of digitization in the late nineties into today, and what goes around, come around as the music industry now faces a far bigger piracy nightmare than they could have ever dreamed of would have been caused by the DAT machine.

Another example is the DVD recorder. While these devices are still available, their growth has been halted by companies who really don't like the idea of offering consumers the ability to record, edit and then burn DVDs easily. That is why the Toshiba machine I bought many years ago blows away any commonly seen machine today. Then there are the issues of "Regions" and encryption, right?

Probably one of the must-read sites now-a-days has to be Florian Mueller's Foss Patents blog.

Yesterday Mueller had an extensive post about Lodsys's demands for patent royalties from small app developers. This post is a must read for any app developer.

His next two posts, however, were just as good: this post about MacroSolve's claims against 10 app developers over a patent for "system and method for data management"; and this post concerning an upcoming patent trial, Oracle v. Google – that trial is set to begin October 31, 2011 and involves claims by Oracle of copyright infringement.

I've added Foss Patents to the list of sites found at right.