This Is What A Patent Thicket Looks Like [Updated]

from the visualization-works dept

A couple weeks ago, we asked if any smartphone could survive the patent thicket. In the last few months there has been a ton of lawsuits (and ITC filings) over smartphones supposedly violating patents. And since that post was written a few more lawsuits were filed as well. It’s patent nuclear war breaking out in the smartphone space, and the end result is that we, the public, all suffer. Lots of money is being spent on lawsuits, and that could have gone into better development and giving us more features, better prices and better service.

Of course, while I described this in words, sometimes, as the cliche goes, a picture is worth a lot more. Thanks to Nick Bilton at the NY Times for putting together that picture (see update below) that shows what the patent thicket in the smartphone space looks like:

That’s a picture of a patent thicket, and it’s a picture of waste that does the exact opposite of promoting innovation.

Update: Unfortunately, it looks like Bilton may have exaggerated a bit. Joe Mullin looks through the details and notices that some of the lawsuits appear totally unrelated to the smartphone space. As he notes, there are plenty of smartphone patent lawsuits to go around, but there’s no need to exaggerate them.

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Comments on “This Is What A Patent Thicket Looks Like [Updated]”

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35 Comments
NAMELESS.ONE says:

its quite easy to see

how yu can argue that patents dont help innovation as once one person has htem it becomes extortion on all others even if they lived on aremote island away form all and invented somehting simular

thats not what was intended and until the planet gets past this insanity we wont progress.

GO ahead look at 70’s tv for issues that they had , now look at today , anyhting changed? NOPE

ya might say its worse as we have a lot less freedoms and rights

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Sure you cannot do that? Patents do expire you know, typically after 20 years or earlier if the proprietors stop paying the annuity fees.

How about the revers: you have spent your savings and morgaged the rest to build someting new and when you launch your product an industrial behemot copies your work and sell it as theirs, destroying your possibilities of paying back what you owe. Sounds good?

tracker1 (profile) says:

It's interesting...

Nokia as a company has probably invested more into true R&D with physical production of product, combined with fair licensing than any other company listed (at least with regards to telephone tech, aside from maybe Motorola). I don’t consider it trolling when for the most part a company has and continues to actually produce something, and is funding R&D. For the most part Nokia and others have cross licensing deals, but Nokia is leveraged into a few key areas of cellular tech that position it better on those terms.

@johnhac, regarding Palm, my guess is they are either cross-licensing or paying off those other companies as they present themselves. Given their very early successes within the PDA space, since absorbed by the cell phone market, it’s a pretty safe bet that they have a strong portfolio for cross-licensing deals as well.

I do think that software patents are ridiculous, as are imho interface patents… But patents on physical devices, much less so. I do feel that the way technology evolves these days, patents should last for a shorter term, and copyright much shorter than it is.

Pirate Hater (profile) says:

Patent Thicket

To the undereducated reader, a diagram like that depicted above can and does appear to be a maze of wasteful litigation on first glance, which all most readers will give it.

But, to the real inventors of the true advances that enabled cell phone technologies and companies to even exist, that maze can probably be explained very clearly.

To the real inventors the true advances that enabled cell phone technologies and companies to even exist, there is probably quite a bit at stake, including reputation, earnings, profits, and plain old justice.

Those real inventors and their investors risked capital on new technologies, only to be pirated by competitors with impunity. To those real inventors and their investors, patent litigation is the only means to justice against those who would pirate their technologies.

Patents, and patent litigation, are the means of protecting new innovation on its way to market, just like US maritime law and the US Navy protects tankers full of oil on their way to market.

Those who try to weaken patents and patent enforcement with a wave of the hand and a scoffing remark about the wastefulness of litigation are simply trying to reduce the penalties for their misdeeds. They are trying to get away with murder.

Those who scoff at patents as frivilous litigation tend to be the less technological types, who disrespect and devalue scientists, and want to pirate the work of scientists with impunity.

Pirate Hater (profile) says:

The Value of Patents to The Consumer

Some patent scofflaws like to argue that patents hurt consumers, because they create monopoly pricing without competition. That is also a false argument.

First, patents don’t prevent competitors from developing competing products. A patent only protects one product. Others are always free to develop better mousetraps and sell them at lower prices.

Second, to the extent that patents do enable a patentee to monopolize the supply chain and customers for his particular product offering, they have a cost reducing impact on that product, not a cost increasing impact, because they allow the patentee to achieve greater economies of scale in manufacturing.

For example, if 10 different vendors split a market 10 ways, then each will only achieve an economy of scale of equal to 10% of the volume of the market for that product. If, on the other hand, the patent is respected, then the patentee can achieve a lower cost of production, because the patentee produces at 10X the volume, or 100% market share.

In practice, the best example of the power of patents to reduce costs and make a product more available to consumers, is none other than Henry Ford. He was a prolific inventor, with 163 patents, which helped to enable him and his investors to achieve greater economies of scale in manufacturing.

Had there been, for example, no patents at all in the early years of the auto industry, then the industry would’ve been extremely fragmented, and none of the companies would’ve been able to achieve the large market share and product volumes needed to reduce the unit cost and make autos more widely available.

Patents give an inventor, entrepreneur, and his investors that ability to consolidate the supply chain for their product in a manner that reduces the costs of production, and makes the product more available to consumers, not less.

And, at the same time, the other competitors are still free to develop a better mousetrap. They just can’t copy the patentee’s mousetrap. That’s all.

Contrary to the assertions of patent pirates and would-be pirates who want to weaken patent law, devalue the contributions of scientists and inventors, and fragment industries to the detriment of consumers and to their own personal benefit, patents are not anti-competitive, nor do they produce higher pricing in the long run.

johnjac (profile) says:

Re: The Value of Patents to The Consumer

“First, patents don’t prevent competitors from developing competing products. A patent only protects one product. Others are always free to develop better mousetraps and sell them at lower prices.”

Unless your patent of for the capturing and killing of mice. For example Tivo’s patent for DVR if it stands, will give it a monopoly in that space. Or if your patent covers obviousness like using a touch screen to unlock a phone.

Overly broad and overly obvious patents are purposely designed to drive away competition.

“Second, to the extent that patents do enable a patentee to monopolize the supply chain and customers for his particular product offering, they have a cost reducing impact on that product, not a cost increasing impact, because they allow the patentee to achieve greater economies of scale in manufacturing.”

In you 1st point you praise power of competition, and in your 2nd point you praise the power of monopolies. Which is it?

The ‘economies of scale’ argument can be and has been used to defend all monopolies. EoS is only 1/2 of the picture. A company is not going to look for EoS unless they have effective competition. Without competition there is no incentive to grow EoS because you already have 100% of the market.

Pirate Hater (profile) says:

The Value of Patents to The Consumer

Some patent scofflaws like to argue that patents hurt consumers, because they create monopoly pricing without competition. That is also a false argument.

First, patents don’t prevent competitors from developing competing products. A patent only protects one product. Others are always free to develop better mousetraps and sell them at lower prices.

Second, to the extent that patents do enable a patentee to monopolize the supply chain and customers for his particular product offering, they have a cost reducing impact on that product, not a cost increasing impact, because they allow the patentee to achieve greater economies of scale in manufacturing.

For example, if 10 different vendors split a market 10 ways, then each will only achieve an economy of scale of equal to 10% of the volume of the market for that product. If, on the other hand, the patent is respected, then the patentee can achieve a lower cost of production, because the patentee produces at 10X the volume, or 100% market share.

In practice, the best example of the power of patents to reduce costs and make a product more available to consumers, is none other than Henry Ford. He was a prolific inventor, with 163 patents, which helped to enable him and his investors to achieve greater economies of scale in manufacturing.

Had there been, for example, no patents at all in the early years of the auto industry, then the industry would’ve been extremely fragmented, and none of the companies would’ve been able to achieve the large market share and product volumes needed to reduce the unit cost and make autos more widely available.

Patents give an inventor, entrepreneur, and his investors that ability to consolidate the supply chain for their product in a manner that reduces the costs of production, and makes the product more available to consumers, not less.

And, at the same time, the other competitors are still free to develop a better mousetrap. They just can’t copy the patentee’s mousetrap. That’s all.

Contrary to the assertions of patent pirates and would-be pirates who want to weaken patent law, devalue the contributions of scientists and inventors, and fragment industries to the detriment of consumers and to their own personal benefit, patents are not anti-competitive, nor do they produce higher pricing in the long run.

Pirate Hater (profile) says:

Patent Thicket or Pirate Cove?

Let’s not forget that most of us wouldn’t have the slightest idea of how to build a cell phone. Indeed, 20 years ago, there weren’t really many cellphones at all.

There has been true innovation and invention that has enabled this industry. Of that, there can be no question.

And, those who invented those true, enabling inventions deserve credit, respect, and strong patent rights.

Those who violate those rights and that respect are the ones who deserve disrespect, not the inventors and their lawyers.

To portray someone who invented, for example, an important new computer chip that advances cell phone technology as simply a ‘troll’ who contributes nothing but frivilous litigation to the economy is rude, to say the least, and more to the point, very disingenuous, disrespectful, and obnoxious.

Those who seek to advance the cause of piracy by weakening patents, labeling inventors as ‘trolls’, and otherwise devalue the work of scientific advancement are the low lives of society, not the inventors.

Is it any wonder that the US is falling behind in science, when smart, diligent people are bullied throughout their lives … first in grade school, and then right on up through to their days as inventors, there are bullies out there seeking to put them down, for no reason other than lifting their own, less-skilled selves up.

Pirate Hater (profile) says:

Patent Thicket or Pirate Cove?

Let’s not forget that most of us wouldn’t have the slightest idea of how to build a cell phone. Indeed, 20 years ago, there weren’t really many cellphones at all.

There has been true innovation and invention that has enabled this industry. Of that, there can be no question.

And, those who invented those true, enabling inventions deserve credit, respect, and strong patent rights.

Those who violate those rights and that respect are the ones who deserve disrespect, not the inventors and their lawyers.

To portray someone who invented, for example, an important new computer chip that advances cell phone technology as simply a ‘troll’ who contributes nothing but frivilous litigation to the economy is rude, to say the least, and more to the point, very disingenuous, disrespectful, and obnoxious.

Those who seek to advance the cause of piracy by weakening patents, labeling inventors as ‘trolls’, and otherwise devalue the work of scientific advancement are the low lives of society, not the inventors.

Is it any wonder that the US is falling behind in science, when smart, diligent people are bullied throughout their lives … first in grade school, and then right on up through to their days as inventors, there are bullies out there seeking to put them down, for no reason other than lifting their own, less-skilled selves up.

Pirate Hater (profile) says:

Patent Thicket or Pirate Cove?

Let’s not forget that most of us wouldn’t have the slightest idea of how to build a cell phone. Indeed, 20 years ago, there weren’t really many cellphones at all.

There has been true innovation and invention that has enabled this industry. Of that, there can be no question.

And, those who invented those true, enabling inventions deserve credit, respect, and strong patent rights.

Those who violate those rights and that respect are the ones who deserve disrespect, not the inventors and their lawyers.

To portray someone who invented, for example, an important new computer chip that advances cell phone technology as simply a ‘troll’ who contributes nothing but frivilous litigation to the economy is rude, to say the least, and more to the point, very disingenuous, disrespectful, and obnoxious.

Those who seek to advance the cause of piracy by weakening patents, labeling inventors as ‘trolls’, and otherwise devalue the work of scientific advancement are the low lives of society, not the inventors.

Is it any wonder that the US is falling behind in science, when smart, diligent people are bullied throughout their lives … first in grade school, and then right on up through to their days as inventors, there are bullies out there seeking to put them down, for no reason other than lifting their own, less-skilled selves up.

Pirate Hater (profile) says:

Patent Thicket or Pirate Cove?

Let’s not forget that most of us wouldn’t have the slightest idea of how to build a cell phone. Indeed, 20 years ago, there weren’t really many cellphones at all.

There has been true innovation and invention that has enabled this industry. Of that, there can be no question.

And, those who invented those true, enabling inventions deserve credit, respect, and strong patent rights.

Those who violate those rights and that respect are the ones who deserve disrespect, not the inventors and their lawyers.

To portray someone who invented, for example, an important new computer chip that advances cell phone technology as simply a ‘troll’ who contributes nothing but frivilous litigation to the economy is rude, to say the least, and more to the point, very disingenuous, disrespectful, and obnoxious.

Those who seek to advance the cause of piracy by weakening patents, labeling inventors as ‘trolls’, and otherwise devalue the work of scientific advancement are the low lives of society, not the inventors.

Is it any wonder that the US is falling behind in science, when smart, diligent people are bullied throughout their lives … first in grade school, and then right on up through to their days as inventors, there are bullies out there seeking to put them down, for no reason other than lifting their own, less-skilled selves up.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Smartphone lawsuits

Excellent article, and I agree wholeheartedly. As an IP (aka “patent”) attorney, I continue to believe small entity patenting does much good, and helps our economy by encouraging innovation.
Large entity patenting (to most folks, “patenting”, which does more to show how ignorant the public is of such things than anything else!) is EVIL, and needs to be curbed (or even, as Mike has suggested, abolished!).
The same is true of large entity trademarking, and certainly of large entity copyright – EVIL!
Unfortunately large entities have more money – who ever heard of a small entity buying a politician?

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