One of the more amazing things as the NTP/RIM patent lawsuit came to a close was the way that NTP's defenders seemed to completely ignore two important aspects of the case: they would not discuss prior art and they absolutely refused to entertain the idea that NTP's patents were on an "obvious" idea. This was even as the US Patent Office was busy invalidating each and every patent -- admitting that they'd made a mistake in granting them in the first place. The NY Times has dug up one of the more interesting hidden elements of the case: the fact that the basic idea of "wireless email" that Thomas Campana patented, and which eventually were the core of NTP's case, had clear prior art in the work of Geoff Goodfellow, who had done work on such ideas a decade before Campana. Goodfellow, however, chose not to patent the concept, echoing things that we've said repeatedly here: "You don't patent the obvious. The way you compete is to build something that is faster, better, cheaper. You don't lock your ideas up in a patent and rest on your laurels." The scary part, though, is that NTP's lawyers were able to effectively silence Goodfellow in the case, paying him $20,000 for a few days of "consulting" work, with part of the deal being that he was prohibited from revealing any info to RIM during the case. So, while they kept the prior art quiet for $20,000, NTP's lawyers walked away with $600 million. Yet, patent system defenders still want to tell us the system works great? On two different accounts this is damning against the patent system. First, it shows prior art. However, more importantly, it shows that someone who was clearly "skilled in the art" found the entire concept to be obvious years before the actual patent was granted. It brings up again the important question of why the patent office refuses to put in place a test for obviousness when the law demands it.
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