Defensive Patent License: A Solution To Patent Problems... Or Just A Way To Highlight Them?

from the and-shouldn't-it-be-league dept

There have been a few unique ideas lately about ways for tech companies to try to "deal" with the explosion of innovation-hindering patent lawsuits against any company that's been marginally successful. For innovators, it's become something of a pandemic, so it's no surprise to see some experiments come about. A few months back, for example, Twitter got a lot of attention for its Innovator's Patent Agreement, which guarantees that any patent assigned by an employee to the company allows the original inventor an effective veto its offensive use. That is, an engineer (even after they leave Twitter, or even after a patent may have changed hands) can, independently of the patent holder, issue a no-fee license for the patent -- so the inventor can grant a license that gets others out of any patent dispute.

And while some other companies are considering using Twitter's IPA -- which it's released publicly for others to use -- it's still a single-company solution. One alternative that focused on a bunch of companies working together was Paul Graham's Patent Pledge which lets companies pledge that they won't use software patents against companies with less than 25 people. A bunch of startups have signed on. It's a nice idea, but the wrong target. The companies willing to sign such a pledge tend to be the ones who wouldn't use their patents offensively anyway.

This week, another potential option was announced too: the Defensive Patent Licence (DPL), which basically requires those who sign up to pledge all of their patents to be covered by the DPL. The way it works is any company that signs on to the DPL cannot assert its patents against any other DPL member. In some ways, it seems like the "L" in DPL would be better as "league" rather than license, since the key aspect is that anyone who does this is effectively in agreement with everyone else in the DPL.

Of course, there's a bit of game theory at work here. You might think that bigger companies would never join the DPL -- and to some extent that's clearly an issue. However, remember, that the big guys may want to avoid lawsuits from patents under the DPL too... but the only way to do so would be to join, at which point they'd have to effectively license all their patents to all other members.

Jason Schultz and Jennifer Urban, the professors responsible for putting this together, have an interesting research paper on the concept that's worth reading.

In many ways, this is an attempt to use the "benefits" of a system like, for example, Intellectual Ventures, without the soul-sucking evilness part. How well it works will very much depend on who takes part. Though, a big issue is that trolls will clearly stay out of it, and they remain one of the central problems with the patent system.

In the end, it seems like all these different ideas are really mostly useful for one key thing: highlighting the many, many, many ways in which current patent system is totally screwed up.

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  1. identicon
    Lord Binky, 14 Jun 2012 @ 7:53am

    Step 1 toward the Opt-Out System.

    I really hope we're moving toward an Opt-Out addition to the system. That way you can't hold or be held to patents. I think it's possible to wedge this in to be compliant with all the stupid treaties that have been made to make everyone conform to some kind of horrible patent system (not that all patent systems are horrible, but patent systems made to work with horrible patents systems..tend to be horrible themselves..)

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