Innovation At Work: Ma Bell Wants Apple To Pay Up For Video Patents
from the lawyers-getting-richer dept
When we talk about "patent trolls" and the like, people sometimes accuse of supporting big companies over small ones -- as it's often small companies that play patent troll roles. However, that's not always true. Big companies can be just as bad with patents as small ones. AT&T has now decided to go after Apple for patents it claims it owns concerning MPEG-4 video compression (found via Slashdot). This case highlights a number of the things that are problematic about patents right now. AT&T is obviously within their legal right to take this action -- but the point is that it does little to encourage innovation, and plenty to hinder it. First, MPEG-4 is part of a standard that already has a patent licensing body, that tries to round up all of the associated patents, with agreements to license them at reasonable and non-discriminatory rates (in other words, open to everyone who pays the rate). AT&T chose to stay out of that -- which, again, is their choice. However, it's becoming all too common for companies to do this. They believe they have patents related to standards, and then sit out until the standard has become adopted -- and then swoop in and try to start charging everyone. All this does is make the process of standardization much more difficult. Others learn not to include their patents in standards, but rather to wait and see how they can disrupt things later. The companies that actually then use the standard to innovate get burned. Even if the patent is valid, AT&T should go after those who included the technology in the standard -- not Apple. If the point of allowing lawsuits over patents is to protect companies from having their ideas unfairly "stolen" then, it would seem like there should be some evidence that the infringing company actually took the idea from the patent. Considering that Apple is using a well known standard, it's quite unlikely that they went through AT&T's patents and used them to decide what video technology to use. While it's obviously within AT&T's legal right to do this (and, perhaps, short term financial best interest), it highlights how the patent system is simply being used to set up tollbooths, not encourage innovation.