Microsoft's Changing Views On Patents; When You're Young You Need To Innovate; When You're Old You Need To Litigate

from the protectionism-at-work dept

Thursday morning, I noticed an odd opinion piece at News.com by Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, celebrating patent law, despite the fact that the company had just been dealt a $1.5 billion setback in a patent dispute. I'd been noodling over what to write about it, because the most amusing thing was that he completely ignored the fact that Microsoft had only picked up the patent obsession recently -- and in its earlier years had been against patents. If anything, it reminded me that we keep seeing stories of young innovative companies who don't use patents, but who only become patent system fans when they have large established markets they want to protect from innovative competitors. In other words, when they're young, they compete by innovating. As they mature, they block the competition using protectionist patents -- which is exactly the opposite of the type of actions the patent system is supposed to encourage.

Either way, Tim Lee has done an excellent job highlighting Bill Gate's very prescient prediction on software patents juxtaposed with Brad Smith's claims on the importance of the patent system:
Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel, 2007: "Protection for software patents and other intellectual property is essential to maintaining the incentives that encourage and underwrite technological breakthroughs. In every industry, patents provide the legal foundation for innovation. The ensuing legal disputes may be messy, but protection is no less necessary, even so."

Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO, 1991: "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today... A future start-up with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose."

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  1. identicon
    DT, 10 Mar 2007 @ 2:44pm

    Jaded ppl are so sad.

    MS certainly has helped push the PC generation to where it is today. To say thats not innovative is a sad lie and complete ignorance of facts and history. Its not Bill's fault Xerox didn't know what they had or how to market it. Apple didn't steal they idea they cultivated it and gave it relavence. MS did the same with reguards to the GUI interface. Yes, others had tried to do it, but MS happen to be at the right place at the right time and actually made it into a commonly useful tool.

    Caveman A carved a rock into a circle and pushed it down a hill, but only saw his invention as an interesting toy.

    Caveman B saw Caveman A and decided to do the exact same thing, but this time used it to help move a heavy boulder.

    Which was innovative?

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