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Back under your bridge, patent trolls

Column I see them trolling, I hating
Fri Nov 01 2013, 13:50

WHEN I WAS A BOY, which was a long time ago, we had trolls, but they lived near the coast in holes and under bridges.

These days the troll has moved out from under the bridge and into the law courts and software patents market. I preferred them when they were Cornish, lived near the water and were a lot less obviously up in people's grills. Then, they were relatively easy to avoid, unless you worked under trolls.

These days it is not so easy, and the patent trolls are having an impact on the amount of money that you pay for hardware and software. It's no wonder that I don't like them.

Still, I am not alone. Lots of people, except patent lawyers and software patent owners, are sick of the system and the money that it looks to cream out of innovation.

IP, or intellectual property now has some real value attached to it. It always has, of course, but these days it is applied to things that really don't deserve to be the domain of one licensing entity.

The problem is probably most keenly felt in the US, a country where even the judges speculate on whether the legal industry is smoking crack.

Just this week we see the Rockstar Consortium, a hydra of firms that includes Microsoft, Apple and Blackberry, suing Google and Samsung over Nortel patents that it has owned for not much more than a year.

No one expected Rockstar to be benevolent with its patents haul, and it doesn't look like that is its intention.

It wants damages from its rivals over technology that, amongst other things, links searches to advertising.

This sort of thing is manna to Google, a firm that makes a lot of its cash from search and advertising. Google, of course, wanted the Nortel patents, and had a chance to buy them.

Reluctant to work with Microsoft, and coming up short in the bidding process, it had to accept its lot, and that lot was to be on the outside of a cluster of companies that operate in the same business areas but are free to use some very key technologies.

Rockstar makes no bones about what it is. It's homepage is an homage to patents and the money to be made from intellectual property, and when it bought up the Nortel kit is was rather pleased with itself.

Google, which has patents itself, at least tries not look not keen on the patents market and its machinations, and expresses its reluctance to be involved.

In 2011 it was pulling up its trouser legs, jumping up on to a chair, and complaining about the industry attitude to patents.

"I have worked in the tech sector for over two decades. Microsoft and Apple have always been at each other's throats, so when they get into bed together you have to start wondering what's going on," said Google SVP and chief legal officer David Drummond.

"Android's success has yielded something else: a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents. They're doing this by banding together to acquire Novell's old patents (the 'CPTN' group including Microsoft and Apple) and Nortel's old patents (the 'Rockstar' group including Microsoft and Apple), to make sure Google didn't get them."

Drummond said that patents were designed to protect innovation, not get in its way. I agree with this, but it's hard to swallow when you recall just how often Google buys patents itself.

That same year it bought over 1,000 patents from IBM, and just a few months ago was buying display technology gewgaws from Foxconn. These display related patents have a natural home at Google, which makes the Glass spectacles, and owning them gives the firm a strong whip hand over any competitor with designs on the bridge of your nose.

That was in August. In July Foxconn owner Hon Hai was selling patents to Microsoft and boasting about its personal haul of 54,000 of the blighters. It was very happy about this, but to me, that figure is too high and rather chilling.

Trollish firms are the bully in the playground. The kid with all the toys and no desire to share them unless it is very much on its own terms. The sooner that all the toys get wrested from their keen, or, as they claim - reluctant, grasp, the better. µ


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