Microsoft Hoarding Patents Like They're Going Out Of Fashion

from the 200-here,-200-there...-soon-you're-talking-about-real-innovation dept

A few years back, Microsoft decided to shift its strategy on software patents. The contrast in what Microsoft was saying publicly about patents was stark:
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."
If you needed any proof that Microsoft has shifted from a "young company innovates" to an "old company litigates" stance, just take a look at the massive ramp up in patents awarded to Microsoft over the last decade and a half. It's been steady growth, with a massive leap in the past two years.

Every week, if you follow patents granted to Microsoft you see huge numbers. In the past four weeks alone, Microsoft has been granted 49 patents (June 24), 44 patents (June 17), 42 patents (June 10) and 76 patents (June 3). That's 211 patents this month alone. Compare that to a company like Google, who was granted a grand total of 7 patents in June.

The patent system was designed to award incentives in the rarest of circumstances -- when the free market alone wouldn't provide the incentives necessary to bring a technology forward. When a single company is getting over 200 patents a month, the system isn't functioning as intended. It's not an incentive to innovation. It's a tax on innovation.

Filed Under: hoarding, patents
Companies: microsoft


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  1. identicon
    Hulser, 26 Jun 2008 @ 10:18am

    Defense?

    I wonder how much of a company's strategy to hoard patents can be viewed as a defense against other companies hoarding patents? I'm sure patent hoarding goes back decades, if not centuries, but I don't think that anyone would argue that it hasn't become worse in the last few years. If this is so, then companies may view getting a patent as insurance from being sued by someone else.

    There are two obvious problems with this is...

    1) Even if a company originally got a patent as insurance, that doesn't mean that some jackass won't come along later and try to use it as a revenue generation tool.

    2) If a company sees the patent system as something that needs to be gamed in order to survive, wouldn't it be motivated to fix the problem? In other words, if Microsoft were really having to spend all of this time to get patents just for defensive purposes, wouldn't they be a lot more vocal about how the patent system was broken and be trying to fix it?

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