The patent world is a jumbled mess. Companies are suing companies left and right. In the end, the consumer and economy get hurt.
News broke yesterday that Apple has won a round in the patent infringement case against HTC. HTC of course is appealing. Meanwhile HTC has purchased S3 to sue Apple. Kodak has sued Apple and RIM. Apple and Samsung are suing each other over patents also. This is just a small smattering of the lawsuits going on over smartphones, and just another example of how broken the patent system is.
A patent ( /?pæt?nt/ or /?pe?t?nt/) is a set of exclusive rights granted by a state (national government) to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention(from Wikipedia). A simple enough definition, yet a problem arises with patents in the technology industry. Technology moves fast, and patents cause it nothing but problems. The limit for a patent in the United States, or Europe is 20 years. The amount of time one of the patent lawsuits will go through the legal system is 3-15 years depending on resources of the companies, and whether they come up with an agreement outside of court.
The problem really arises in how many things get patented, and are there other ways to do those same things. A lot of the patent issues arise not from hardware, but from software. Software is a bunch of commands and equations. There are only so many ways to program something. Yes, you can license the patents from the patent holder. Yet if you write something that does a similar function, and goes about it a different way, without that patent license, you still could be sued.
This not only can stifle innovation, but create issues for the end consumer, which are the ones who in the end are supposed to benefit from innovation. Without that innovation, you don’t come up with valid competitors, which may leave a lack of choice and a larger expense to the consumer. The lawsuits can sow confusion in the consumer, slowing down the adaptation of new technologies, putting companies out of business, and increasing the unemployment rate. I am not saying that this will or always does happen, but it is a big chance to take.
Imagine, if you will, if say the Pythagorean Theorem was patented. Better yet, if the Theory of Relativity was patented. Think of all the items, designs, and things that we would be missing out on, or that could be sued into non-existence.
The real fix isn’t licensing, or suing, but a more reasonable term for patents and intellectual property in the world of technology, more specifically software. 20 years is reasonable for a drug, considering that by the time it actually gets to market there is around 5-8 years left on the patent, during which time the companies can make up their investment. A company such as Apple can easily make up its investment in a patent for a smartphone within 3 to 5 years of the device hitting market. The problem is that a drug company takes 12 years to market, research, get approval, and get the drug out to the consumer. A company like apple takes about 3 years to get a new device out and less when creating upgrades for said device. The original investment in the technology itself is only viable with the release of the first generation of said product, otherwise you wouldn’t have new iPhones coming out every 6 months to 1 year.
So what is the answer then? A 10 year software patent? Maybe 5 years? With the rate at which technology changes, it has to be less than 20 years. Otherwise, people could become afraid to innovate, new ideas could be stifled, and we will be left with less of a choice for items that are supposed to make our lives better.
Keeping up in the IT world, you come across all sorts of interesting things. You also start seeing patterns that can almost be seen as a microcosm to the rest of the world. With all the focus on Swine Flu lately, you can see some similarities between the way it is being presented and say, Cornficker.
Swine Flu is still making headlines, while Cornficker has done exactly what I figured. It feel from the spotlight, and it fell hard. So hard that the FBI complained about the over-hype and problems that the over-hype caused. Now we are seeing that exact same over-hype with the whole Swine Flu health issue, but no one will ever say it was over-hyped. Cornficker, by the way, has one variant that is about the self destruct, while most of the others have been turning into spam-bots, creating a very large botnet.
The Swine Flu is a nasty illness, but it is being called an epidemic, when in reality such a small portion of people are getting it, and an extremely small amount are dying from it. Yes it is nasty, and yes it needs to be fought, but it doesn’t seem to be any more widespread than any other influenza, just a strain that is more rare.
So one has to wonder, with the latest Zero-Day Adobe Exploit, what we are doing about it. The answer is nothing. People are supposedly waiting for the patch for the newest exploit, yet they still haven’t applied the patches for the prior exploit. Mind you, these things get no press, even though they can be just as dangerous as anything else out there.
Yes, you should test patches before deploying them, but you need to have a plan and a time frame that is not insanely long for a decision. The patches for exploits out in the wild (zero-day) should be deployed as fast as possible. It is simple common sense.
Of course, common sense isn’t so common anymore. Just look at the plan on the Swine Flu “epidemic”. It consists of scaring everyone to death, hurting the economy because of travel bans, and basically hyping the hell out of it until we become complacent and don’t even listen to the people who are basically crying wolf constantly about it.
Hype can be good, but in this day and age, we over-hype so much so fast that I have to wonder, “What are we thinking?”
IE8, still not ready for everyone to use due to compatibility issues with many websites out there. Microsoft says, “We are not pushing IE8 out there yet.” Everyone breaths a sigh of relief.
At least until today. If you run updates, you should take a close look at the high priority updates. Yeah the ones that get pushed down through Automatic Updates. You will see IE8 there. Sounds like a push to me. Yet Microsoft is still claiming that they are not pushing it out.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I saw it in the Optional Software updates, I would believe them, but with it in High Priority? Come on, we all know that usually we just let the high priority updates get installed, because they are usually the most critical of the updates, and if you are set up to autoupdate, it will get pushed down and installed unless you are set up to check what updates have been downloaded for install.
To use a phrase from a segment on a sports show I listen to.. Microsoft, Who Ya Crappin?