by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
patent thicket, smartphones


Would We Prefer HTC To Be Making Cool New Products? Or Just Getting More Patents

from the state-of-the-times dept

HTC has, quite rightly, decried the insanity of the patent thicket in the smartphone arena. In fact, some clueless analyst had written a note suggesting that HTC was at risk because it didn't have enough patents. The idea that quantity of patents matters is a really scary thought, but with the way the patent system works today, companies who have no desire to own patents are increasingly being pressured into doing so. Thus, HTC has been in the process of getting its hands on as many patents as possible, both by ramping up its own patent application filings, and by buying others patents (such as via the purchase of S3).

As someone who has used a bunch of HTC phones over the years, all of this is pretty depressing. I'd much rather the company focus on doing what it does best: building cool smartphones and devices. While our broken system may be forcing it to invest in patents (and patent litigation), wouldn't we all be better served by letting it (and others) focus on building cool products to compete in the marketplace? Or is that just too old fashioned an idea?

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  1. icon
    drew (profile), 19 Jun 2012 @ 12:24am

    but but but...

    ... but...
    Actually I don't know. But what? The only people who seem to use patents as part of their business model are the trolls and dying former-technological-leaders-looking-to-stave-off-bankruptcy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Nrbl, 19 Jun 2012 @ 1:10am

    HTC wanted a free ride

    Ways to make "cool products" -
    1) Innovate - HTC & innovate? - LOL! They're a dumb manufacturer.
    2) Get a benevolent sponsor like Google - HTC adopted Android
    3) Pay & license someone else's cool stuff - HTC licensed Windows Phone from Microsoft

    Any company which does 1 will get high margins. Companies in 2 & 3 will eventually become low margin companies.

    However, they didn't anticipate the hidden costs of Android - litigation, patents etc. Of course, some of the patents being used against Android are ridiculous.

    But, you can't question the fact that to innovate, you need to invest significant money & resources - which HTC didn't do!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    TechnoMage (profile), 19 Jun 2012 @ 1:47am

    My HTC Dream (the first Android Phone, aka G1)

    And every HTC phone I've used has been built solid and worked well. That is what they need to focus on. and to the above commenter... HTC had to make the drivers, the hardware, and balance all the power needs, etc... of the G1 (let alone every phone after that). Look at the list of HTC vs other Devices supported by Cyanogenmod... That requires in and of itself well made products (to get people to donate their time and effort to work on custom ROMS, and quality hardware/software/drivers that can be used in other ROMS effectively)

    Personally I just hope the DoD/Fed. Gov't steps in (like they did with airplane technology/patents after WW1) and basically makes patents in the mobile sphere unenforceable (for national defense purposes)... Heck... There was an article out a while ago saying that some custom hardened(security) Android device was able to launch nuclear weapons... I would wager that it was based off some commercially available device & all of its patents.

    My G1 still works today (even has a 15 min max battery, lol)... despite the plastic case looking like it went through WW2.

    I installed Cyanogenmod after my 2yr warranty was up, and That allowed me to use my phone for a total of 3~4 years easily. (keeping up to date software wise)(not hardware wise...obviously)

    I can honestly say that the G1 had MUCH better drivers than my current Samsung Intercept (yes I know.. POS phone, but I work on top of the line Android devices all day..... So I just have this for phone calls and nothing else) And in the long run it matters which device manufacture has the best drivers (because that has an effect on performance, stability, battery usage, etc) just as much as any other aspect of a hand held.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Minimum Wage Shill, 19 Jun 2012 @ 2:02am

    But the patent itself is a product so when they get more patents they are making more products.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jun 2012 @ 2:07am

    but but but think of the poor lawyers!! how will they survive if there are no court battles over these patents?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Nellius, 19 Jun 2012 @ 2:08am

    Re: but but but...

    Don't forget Apple. That makes Apple's competitors need more patents in order to fight back against Apple's patent trolling.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    LibreMan, 19 Jun 2012 @ 2:59am

    Maybe HTC could become one of the first to be interested in Defensive Patent Licence ( if they're truly interested in innovation rather than patent hoarding - I hope big tech companies realize that it's better to compete in actual products and technology rather than engage in patent wars and do adopt it ...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), 19 Jun 2012 @ 3:42am

    Wouldn't it be cheaper to just lobby the government to change the laws? One simple rule would be needed, if you sue and loose you pay the other sides legal fees.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 19 Jun 2012 @ 4:48am

    Into the Commodity Zone.

    What is happening, fundamentally, is that smart-phones and similar hand-held computers are moving into the zone of diminishing returns, just as desktop and laptop computers did before them. Any task which is highly visual competes for attention with physical navigation, with seeing where you are going. That means that tasks like reading, writing, programming, mathematics, painting and drawing, movie-watching, and video-game-playing tend to require enough visual attention that one has to sit down to do them, and one is likely to need quiet surroundings. Most of the "apps" which appear on smart-phones are little more than alternative links to websites. There are only a handful of distinctive smart-phone "apps," which actually take advantage of the user's mobility.

    Smart cellphones are becoming commodities, just as desktop computers did before them. When these little computers first emerged, it must be about twenty years ago, when they were known as "personal digital assistants," I recall thinking that they were very dull. The single most obvious application was store-keeping, walking through ranges of shelves in a warehouse or a store, scanning the bar-codes, and doing related things. Store-keeping wasn't anything I had any great desire to do. Nowadays, there are smart-phone apps which you can point at a bar-code, and be told that there is a better deal on the internet. So why not drop to the bottom line, and not visit the store in the first place?

    As it developed, the single most successful application of smart cellphones was as a better jukebox, to play recorded music. Listening to music does not conflict with the visual sense. All right, so everyone has a jukebox now. What do you do for an encore?

    About the only kind of new smart-phone applications which really stand up are those which get to the heart of mobility, those designed for facilitating travel, applications which will provide you with a moving map, or call you a taxicab or limousine, or make you a reservation on a train, or guide you to catching the right bus or subway within an urban transit system, or something like that. At a higher level, the system can point out a place to eat, or make a motel reservation, things which fit within the framework of travel.

    Patents are coming out of this "existential crisis." They are a sign of panic. Many years ago, IBM's reaction to the personal computer was to start compulsively collecting patents. But of course the patents didn't reach personal computer for the most part. Personal computers were a case of "ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny," with the manufacturers selling a type of computer which was about twenty or thirty years out of date by mainframe standards, only much smaller and cheaper.

    Most patents relating to cellphones are not going to stand up to re-examination. The Supreme Court has made it plain that reciting standard underlying capabilities ("...on a computer," "...on the internet," "...using a portable device," "..via a wireless connection," etc.) do not create un-obviousness, and when those are stripped away, there is always prior art on the remaining portion of the patent. People did these tasks before there were computers. The pursuit of patents is ultimately the pursuit of trash. The money could be better spent on invalidating the patents of rivals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jun 2012 @ 4:54am


    Wouldn't that just cause a false sense of security? Manufacturers would feel less pressure to get patents, giving trolls an advantage that would allow them to win more lawsuits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Cory of PC (profile), 19 Jun 2012 @ 5:18am

    Recently I've beginning to think about getting three different patents for not me but for the Internet to, hopefully, combat these patent trolls. One patent will be based around suing about patents, another will cover copyrights, and the last will cover trademarks. That way when a company sues for one, two or all three complaints, we could swoop in, sue them for infringing on our patents!

    Plus it'll give them a taste of their own medicine... that is if anyone hasn't taken a patent on this (or this is entirely too stupid to work with).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), 19 Jun 2012 @ 6:36am


    if you sue and loose you pay the other sides legal fees.

    That would just lead to even more non-disclosure settlements for millions of dollars - funneling more and more money to the trolls so they can buy more bogus patents and encourage more companies to settle...

    Nuke the patent system from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    drew (profile), 19 Jun 2012 @ 6:56am


    Doh! How did i forget the lawyers! And their families of course, their poor starving families...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jun 2012 @ 7:08am

    Patents will come back and bite us in the ass. Who has the money? China. What does it take to steal / file a patent? Money! Who will own all the patents and make the entire world pay? What didn't figure it out yet? Let me help you. CHINA will buy the USA

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    John, 19 Jun 2012 @ 7:56am

    Stupid Consumers

    As long as there are consumers stupid enough to support companies like Apple by buying their products the ridiculous patent wars will continue.
    The sad fact is that consumers today are to selfish and lazy to say "I will not buy your product because I don't like the way you do business".
    They want their toys and don't care about the business practices behind them until it affects them, then they are the first to bitch and complain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    William Tang, 19 Jun 2012 @ 8:03am

    Depressing but necessary

    Although I would agree that it is depressing, I think that it is essential due to the way that Apple is acting towards them. If HTC doesnt do something, it cannot move forward. Since HTC is a much smaller company than for example, Samsung. HTC cannot afford to be sued by apple for 40 over patents which would be literally impossible as if HTC was going to be bankrupt.
    I used to appreciate Apple, but after this sucky Tim Cook became the CEO, the new products look the same and feel the same, and they want to sue other companies due to the fact that their products might not be selling well as Android. What sore losers Apple are today

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    E. Zachary Knight (profile), 19 Jun 2012 @ 8:41am

    Re: Re: but but but...

    I guess you could add to Drew's list "companies that don't like competition" to the list.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 19 Jun 2012 @ 10:31am

    Quantity over Quality

    Isn't it crazy how "number of patents" has replaced "relevant patents" the more the patent wars rage on?

    What's going on is that all the major players have portfolios with thousands of patents, so it is almost an impossible task to actually know what all the claims are, when they are relevant, the quality of each claim, etc. But since we know they are all (deliberately) vaguely worded, we can assume that for any hundred patents, maybe one will have a claim that can attack a competitor.

    So, it's much easier just to do a ballpark count of total patents. The count is only 'somewhat' useful, but it is actually easily done, whereas an actual detailed evaluation is nigh impossible.

    Isn't this, essentially, a methodology based on the core principle of the "patent thicket"? We've reduced patent portfolios down to "How thick is your thicket?" Haven't we achieved 'reductio ad absurdum' yet?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    patent litigation, 26 Jun 2012 @ 10:16am

    big rewards

    Considering the serious, potential monetization awards that often tend to accompany large patent portfolios, you can't blame HTC for pursuing this approach and amassing as many as possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    vishal rathi, 20 Sep 2013 @ 6:30am

    if HTC is making more patents it means they are working on more technologies.e can assume that for any hundred patents, maybe one will have a claim that can attack a competitorThe sad fact is that consumers today are to selfish and lazy to say "I will not buy your product because I don't like the way you do business....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 20 Sep 2013 @ 8:48am


    Well, can't blame the consumer too much. I mean, where would you buy your phone if you didn't want to work with an aggressive patenter? You'd have a hard time choosing a phone, or any tech hardware at all.

    The rules are set that create the perverse incentives, so companies respond. Don't hate the player, hate the rules.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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