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
    Jake, 26 Jun 2008 @ 5:56pm

    Re: Corrupt system?

    You're right up to a point, but there is something that Microsoft can be doing if they want things to change. They can lead by example. They can file patents in a responsible manner, including in the wording only that which is genuinely innovative and non-obvious, and voluntarily renouncing any patent that has no further commercial value; releasing the DOS 6.22 source code into the public domain, for example, wouldn't cost them a penny. The problem isn't so much the letter of the law, as far as I can see, but the wilful neglect of the spirit; when you get right down to it, the point of a patent is to force people to come up with their own new ideas instead of taking someone else's work and passing it off as their own, but the idea was never to let someone have one mildly clever idea and milk it for the rest of their natural life either.

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