Acacia Buys Up More Smartphone Apps Patents: Watch The Patent Thicket Get Worse

from the putting-the-brakes-on-innovation dept

Last year, I put together a graphic highlighting the ridiculous nature of the smartphone patent thicket:
That graphic is both incomplete and out of date. It's incomplete in that it doesn't even show all of the lawsuits. It also leaves out the licensing deals, which many companies feel pressured to enter into to avoid lawsuits. On top of that, since I made that graphic there have actually been a lot more lawsuits filed. This graphic has received plenty of attention. I get about one request per week these days from some group somewhere in the world asking if they can use that graphic for a report (you don't need to ask permission: feel free). It also showed up in the very high profile Hargreaves Review of intellectual property rules in the UK.

Honestly, I have little interest in updating the graphic, because it was already a lot of work to put together, but it seems likely that rather than getting any better, the situation is only getting worse. We're still waiting to see the fallout from the Nortel patent purchase, but it almost certainly will lead to more lawsuits. Separately, while the actual federal court patent trials have been moving slowly, the parallel track (with different rules!) known as the ITC loophole has been issuing new decisions every few weeks, including a big ruling for Apple saying that HTC infringed on Apple patents.

And it seems like even more patents are about to get tossed into the fray as well. Glyn Moody points us to the news that Acacia just bought "a valuable patent portfolio" relating to mobile applications for use in smartphones and other wireless computing devices. Oddly, Acacia provides no additional details. It doesn't name who the patents came from. It says that the patents are now owned by an Acacia subsidiary, but doesn't name the subsidiary. They're being deliberately slimy.

But, you can rest assured that these patents will show up in litigation pretty damn quickly. There's been a lot of concern about mobile app patents in the last few months thanks to Lodsys and Kootol... and assuming that Acacia didn't buy out one of those two, it seems like there could be even more reasons to fear.

It's incredibly difficult to see how anyone can claim with a straight face that the actions described here help innovation in any way. If you're just an app developer, creating something cool for a smartphone... and you suddenly find yourself smack dab in the middle of this disaster, it's a massive hindrance to innovation and development of useful apps. This isn't just a "mess," it's a disaster for innovation.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Bt Garner (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:00am

    I wonder if a solution would be to make it so that software pattens cannot be sold, but only licensed. I also think that a much shorter life on software patents (24 months?) is needed, but that would require a different mechanism for submitting a patent, maybe using the provisional patent approach. There should also be a use it or lose it clause (if you have not used the patent within 6-12 months of it being accepted, then you lose any future claims to it).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    whitebrow (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:09am

    A little off topic but what are the patents that Microsoft is using to bully android?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:10am

    Re: Good Idea

    Good idea! If only we could afford to buy enough legislators to put this into effect.

    Maybe if somebody started an "I'd like to buy some Senators & Congressman and reform the patent system" kickstarter... they could move on this as soon as they have a few billion dollars!

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Dave, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:20am

    Shall we play a game?

    Let's play Global Thermal Nuclear Patent War...

    ... Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:22am

    All Hail Adolf Jobs, high leader of the Fourth Apple Reich.


    Things are going insane. The patent and copyright laws need urgent review. Or the US can sit quietly while this drives developers and innovation itself away from the US. This certainly doesn't help the ailing US economy.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:22am

    Re: Re: Good Idea

    Thats a fantastic idea

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:23am

    Re:

    MS won't tell it just waves its lawyers in their faces and say "we has patents, pay up" and amazingly companies like htc and such actually do

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:25am

    Re:

    Google: Partner with everyone, sue no one.
    Apple: Partner with no one, sue everyone.


    (Microsoft: Backstab partners, sue everyone else.)

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:25am

    Re:

    people still think the point of the current regime is to improve things, lol. this is like when the company you work at gets bought out by a huge competetor, you have no choice in the matter, they take the best things you have, ditch the rest, and see how much they can milk it for until it croaks, then moves on. welcome to the united states of go fuck yourself america

     

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  10.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Good Idea

    Greed has no end, we'd need to amass the money of the entire earth to the politicians to succeed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:30am

    The chart leaves out . . .

    Microsoft is suing Barnes & Noble over the Nook infringing some patents. (But really because the Nook uses Android.)

    Microsoft already got Amazon to roll over and pay patent royalties on the Kindle over some unspecified patents.

    Microsoft already sued Tom Tom for its navigators using Linux which infringe some unspecified patents.

    Apple is suing Samsung. Samsung is countersuing Apple in three countries. Apple is looking for new parts suppliers because currently Apple's parts come from . . . Samsung! (Apple can build phones out of Samsung parts, but Samsung cannot.)

    Microsoft recently shook down several other companies because they dared to use Android.

     

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  12.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:36am

    Re: The chart leaves out . . .

    It seems that updating the chart would exceed my 6Gb of RAM and 2 Gb in crossfired gpus... That's worrying heh.

    Instead of actually doing anything good they sue. Great strategy. It's bound to fail at some point as the world will eventually realize how the current patent/copyright system is evil, problematic, cripples innovation, kill creativity [etc], Then they'll have enough reasons to be scared.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:41am

    The graphic is also misleadingly complex, and done in a fashion as to make it look like there is much more going on than there really is.

    Congrats on creating info-pr0n.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:44am

    We've abandoned app development

    We had to. We simply can't afford the resources to keep up with the ToS agreements for the markets, or the patents, or the licensing deals. We were spending more on that than we were spending on actually trying to bring a product to market...and even if we succeeded in doing so, and even if it was a decent product, it could be pulled almost instantly over a bogus claim of infringement.

     

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  15.  
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    PlagueSD (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 11:56am

    Re: The chart leaves out . . .

    Apple is suing Samsung. Samsung is countersuing Apple in three countries. Apple is looking for new parts suppliers because currently Apple's parts come from . . . Samsung! (Apple can build phones out of Samsung parts, but Samsung cannot.)


    I find that extremely funny...

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 12:04pm

    I once was an application developer...

    but... it got too complex and mired in red tape...

    Now I'm a patent reviewer and everything is much simpler... I used to use this stamp thingy to make a pretty ink stamp on each of the papers I got. These days I just hit this button on the screen with the pointy-clicky thingy. I can hit that button even faster than I could do the stampy thingy.

    -------------------------------------------

    Innovation in America, collapsed and lying flat on the ground.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 12:08pm

    Re: The chart leaves out . . .

    "dared to use android".

    Please explain that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Mike42 (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 12:11pm

    Re: Re: The chart leaves out . . .

    The world hasn't realized it yet, the the patent system has been screwing up innovation for over 100 years at least. Why would anyone realize it now?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Atkray (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 12:21pm

    Re:

    Orly?

    I'll wait for your revised and updated version that simplifies everything.

    I will not however, be holding my breath.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Re: The chart leaves out . . .

    From what I understand, Linux supposedly infringes on an unnamed Microsoft patent. Android is built on top of Linux so Android also supposedly infringes. Since Microsoft suing Google would probably end up in a vary bad way for Microsoft, they go after the companies that use the Android OS for their devices instead of Windows Embedded (my opinion, I have no proof).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 12:27pm

    Re: Re:

    I can see an easy way to make it look simpler, but I would require the use of the forth dimension and my spacial warping device is presently lost in the fifth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 12:33pm

    Re: Re: The chart leaves out . . .

    They used Android which runs the eeeeeeevile Linux operating system!

    And Android is open source! Microsoft HATES open source! And Linux. And your little dog too!

    After all, Ballmer said Linux is a cancer. Allchin said that Linux is un-American and the legislators need to be educated to the danger.

    If Microsoft could build an operating system suitable for use on everything from the biggest supercomputers to the smallest cellphones, TiVo's, Tv's, Navigators, personal media players, etc. and on and on and on, then wouldn't people be using in to build those things?

    I hope that answers your question.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 12:34pm

    Re:

    Maybe you could write some software that takes a graph and presents it in the simplest way possible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 12:57pm

    Re: I once was an application developer...

    Then you should see this earlier TechDirt story.

    App Developers Dropping Out Of US Out Of Fears Over Patent Lawsuits

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Angry Puppy (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 1:51pm

    Things are getting wierd

    Corporate America seems to have reached a point of insanity derived from having too much power for too long.

    Obama was recently repeating his mandate to strengthen patent laws in order to protect US industry. This is, most likely, simply acquiescing to corporate interests that support him politically rather than a strategy for the American economy put forward by advisers.

    The strategy of patent and sue is sure to weaken the economy in the long run with money and effort spent on litigation rather than research, development and innovation.

    I believe that patents should be granted for genuinely innovative inventions with rules that the inventor is paid a reasonable sum for the effort. However, I also believe that if a patent is granted this means that anyone can use the invention in any way they wish when they pay a standardized royalty for for-profit use. This would eliminate the worst enemy of economic recovery - patent trolls.

    If a company wants to keep an invention to themselves they should simply keep it a secret and if anyone else comes out with the same idea - tough.

    It's really what is done with an invention that gives a company competitive advantage. As an example: I've tried the touch gesture on several tablets and, at least back when they first came out, the Apple iPad was the best and this is part of why the iPad commands a premium price and is so popular.

    The lawyers are running the show and reaping the profits of mindless litigation to the detriment of all of us.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 1:55pm

    Acacia? I haven't heard that name since her former bandmate Tairrie B. dissed her in a song. Guess she's found another venture outside the music business.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    icon
    gigglehurtz (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 2:06pm

    Re:

    I like the use it or lose it approach. What damage could you possibly be suffering if you are not actively trying to sell products that use your patent?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    trish, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 2:54pm

    american

    I can't understand it. I always thought American ideals were for free markets, for less government interference, for equality for all. and yet, the markets are anything but free, what with these laws whch seem specifically designed to limit competition (it hurts profits... :*( ). Companies are always scrambling to daddy government like spoiled children who WILL get their way cuz daddy's a sucker, and can't manage to understand that 'persons' who are not also corporations have rights.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 6:11pm

    The patent thicket looks more like a bubble to me

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    xebikr (profile), Jul 21st, 2011 @ 6:14pm

    Re: Shall we play a game?

    How about a nice game of chess?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2011 @ 9:01pm

    Perfectly Simple Fix

    When a politician votes to allow more patent litigation, they must know that they are damaging the US economy. They have to be aware that more money spent on litigation must mean less spent on innovation. Money is fungible. They must have noticed that the manufacture of consumer electronics has mostly fled the US jurisdiction and gone to China. They are making the decision that a bit more damage to the US economy is worth it to them, because lobbyists, with their money, are pushing them in that direction.

    There is a perfectly simple fix to all this litigation. Repeal the part of the law which makes patent infringement illegal. Get rid of the government-granted monopoly privilege. That would scuttle all patent infringement lawsuits. Benefits to the US economy and justice system would follow.

    The real question is: how much economic pain do the unfortunate citizens of the US have to suffer before their politicians are willing to do the right thing?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 4:53am

    Re: american

    Doublethink

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 4:59am

    Re: Perfectly Simple Fix

    "When a politician votes to allow more patent litigation, they must know that they are damaging the US economy. "

    You give them too much credit. I doubt most ever read the bills they approve, they simply rubber stamp something written by PACs and industry committees.

    Did you see the video of Boehner attempting to explain his handing out of tobacco industry checks to other congressional members just prior to the vote on the tobacco subsidy?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2011 @ 8:08am

    Re: Re:

    I won't spend the time, but I can tell you this:

    There are companies on there that "only sue" (Acacia, Minerva, MPEG-la, etc). Those could all be put to one side, as a column, and all of their "paths" drawn from there. Right away, you eliminate about 80% of the spaghetti that Mike created to make the situation look bad.

    You also have companies that have only 1 or two connections totaly, like Picsel and Sanyo, that could be put off to the other side. Again, you eliminate clustering and spaghetti used to obstruct the truth.

    You can easily cluster a few companies (HP, Apple, Motorola) near the middle, as they seem to be involved in almost everything.

    Go from there, the rest is pretty easy to pull off.

    The intention of Mike's info pr0n is to make it look way worse than it is. He succeeded, because you guys buy into it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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