Among the companies that demonstrate just how much our patent system does not encourage innovation, Forgent may be near the top of the list. The patent in question had absolutely nothing to do with the eventual creation of JPEG image compression, and Forgent found this patent collecting dust in the corner after purchasing assets from another company. They made a bit of a stretch and said it covered JPEG compression and started suing everyone. Back in November, though, we noted that a group had dug up some prior art which they hoped would invalidate the patent. That didn't stop Forgent, of course, who quickly pressured Yahoo! into licensing the patent. This week, they got JASC to settle a lawsuit over the patent -- but that may have been a bit premature. Based on that prior art submission from last November, the USPTO has now agreed to reconsider the patent. Obviously, there's a lengthy process to go through before any conclusion is made -- but this situation demonstrates all of the problems with the patent system in one simple case study. You have a patent that obviously had nothing to do with the actual innovation, but was simply applied retroactively as a "lottery ticket" to take money from those who actually did innovate. You have companies who actually are innovating, who are feeling pressured to pay up a license fee, just to avoid the pain of litigation. You have prior art that has to be dug up by others, rather than the patent examiners. You have a patent review process that will take years to conclude one way or the other, during which, money will keep flowing away from actual innovators to a company that has done nothing to help drive innovation (and to lawyers). So, for all the companies who paid up, can they get their money back if the patent is found invalid? Can they sue the patent office for causing all of these problems for fraudulently granting a bogus patent?
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