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.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), 13 Jun 2012 @ 6:38pm

    highlighting the many, many, many ways in which current patent system is totally screwed up.

    A lot of these ideas also sprung up around the time of the SCO vs anything remotely Linux lawsuits where companies such as Novell and IBM and others pledged not to use their copyrights or patents against open source or GPL software. How much of it was a "stunt" and how much seriously is open to question though Novell and IBM are deep in the Linux business on corporate servers and what not so that keeping the OS healthy and defended is very important to them.

    If it only works to highlight the mess US Patent Law has become then it serves a valuable service. Readers of this blog, Groklaw and others that follow this sort of thing are the few who realize what's become of it in the last 10 or 15 years and those start ups and even veterans in the tech industry. Perhaps not even then till a patent troll bites them.

    In fact highlighting the mess so-called IP has become in the past few years might just wake the broader public to the mess it's become, far beyond what it was ever intended to be.

    Even the idea of defensive patents or pools of the makes me nervous. Does this mean that we've reached the point where only the nuclear button is the only option to deal with invalid patents, over aiming patent holders and our good friend the patent troll?

    If that is the case then we've reached the point where patents as a concept have utterly and completely failed.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.