Patently Absurd: Intellectual Ventures Claims It's Easy For Companies To Know If They're Infringing Any Patents
from the because-they're-not-being-intellectually-honest dept
Any company selling a technology and wanting to try and check if the product is infringing someone else's patents, need only go to the USPTO (or corresponding websites for the Japan Patent Office, Chinese Patent Office, etc.) and look up patents and publicly available patent applications that fall in the same technology category and class. When they are doing their search for prior art and pre-existing patents in particular fields, they should be looking for the technology represented in the patents, not for who owns the particular technology. If IV happens to own one of the patents they discover, by all means please come and talk to us about taking out a license.Simple, right? Ignoring, first of all, just how many international patent offices one would really need to go to, the idea that it's somehow easy to look up what patents you might infringe is a complete joke. And anyone who's serious about the patent system admits that. First of all, it assumes (totally incorrectly) that by reading through a patent application you can just tell if what you do is infringing. That's a riot. Most patents are written for lawyers to understand, not actual developers or designers. Second, they're written so broadly and so opaquely, so that they can only be deemed infringing after a product has come to market successfully. It's nearly impossible to track down the patents you might infringe on.
A few months ago, we highlighted a careful study by Tim Lee and Christina Mulligan (at Yale) about why it's mathematically impossible to actually look through all relevant patents when it comes to software. While Gibson and Intellectual Ventures are pretending -- against all evidence -- that patent boundaries and classifications are clear, well-defined and easy to figure out, the reality is quite the opposite. As the Lee/Mulligan paper noted, if software companies actually wanted to do a real prior art search through the patent database, we'd need a lot more patent lawyers:
we estimate it would take at least 2,000,000 patent attorneys, working full time, to consider whether all these software-producing firms have infringed any of the software patents issued in a typical year. Even if firms wanted to hire that many attorneys, they couldn't; there are only 40,000 registered patent attorneys and agents in the United States.The thing is, nearly everyone in the space, on any side, seems to recognize that the broad and fuzzy boundaries of patents is a real issue to be dealt with. That Intellectual Ventures feels it's okay to pretend that the system works just fine, when all of the evidence shows that's not even close to true, suggests just what kind of company it is.