In many of the patent discussions we have around here, people seem to classify the battle as being between "big companies" and "small inventors" when that's rarely the case. However, it's even worth noting that in cases that do involve "big companies" the patent strategies may be extremely different. In an article comparing the patent strategies of IBM, Microsoft, SAP and Oracle you can see just how different they are. IBM, for example, has about 40,000 patents, but has recently been a lot more open with them, releasing a lot of patents for open source use -- recognizing that encouraging the platform growth can help them make more money. In fact, IBM has clearly stated that after years of building up a huge patent portfolio, they've realized that patents have little to do with innovation. Microsoft, whose recent patent obsession was covered in the NY Times recently, used to be against software patents, but is now wants as many patents as it can possibly get. The article notes a few reasons for the change -- including the recent anti-trust lawsuit that forced Microsoft to open up a bit. The thinking is that Microsoft feels more comfortable opening up some of its code if it's protected by patents. Of course, ending up on the losing end of some expensive patent battles probably contributed to the new attitude as well. Oracle has also been mostly against software patents, warning that they would stifle innovation -- but, thanks to all these companies it's been buying (including all their patents), the company may have had a change of heart. SAP represents a different extreme. The company apparently only has about 40 patents and clearly notes that they're in the business of selling products, not intellectual property. How refreshing to hear a software company say such things these days.
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