NTP, a patent holding firm that is really just a bunch of lawyers with incredibly broad and questionable patents, is at it again. As you probably know, NTP was locked in a long and contentious patent fight with RIM over NTP's claimed patents covering the concept of mobile email. Even as the US Patent Office was telling the world that NTP's patents almost certainly weren't valid
, pressure from investors (and the judge in the case who refused to wait for the Patent Office's final rejection of the patents) resulted in RIM settling the case
for $612.5 million. For RIM, it became something of a no brainer. Even though its legal position was strong, its investors were killing the company over the uncertainty (there were threats that the judge could issue an injunction shutting down the entire Blackberry network). Settling the case helped RIM's stock price jump up (increasing its market cap more than the cost of the settlement).
But, from a legal perspective, the lawsuit and the end result became the centerpiece of attention for efforts at patent reform. While I still think that the patent reform process in Congress has been misguided and the end result probably a lot more damaging than helpful, many of the politicians involved will point to the RIM-NTP case as evidence of the problems with the patent system. You might think, then, that NTP's investors might sit back and enjoy the spoils of the RIM settlement, but the company quickly went back out and sued all the major mobile operators
in the US for violating its patents. However, judges in those other suits said (unlike the judge in the RIM case) that those trials should wait
until the Patent Office has made a final decision on the validity of NTP's ridiculously overbroad patents.
However, NTP is not waiting around. It's now suing again. This time, rather than the mobile operators, it's going after device makers and platform vendors, suing Apple, Google, Microsoft, HTC, LG and Motorola
. Basically, it appears that NTP has decided that if anyone does email on a phone, they have to pay NTP.
There might not be a better example of how incredibly screwed up the patent system is than this. NTP was involved in an attempt to do mobile email ages ago (and it wasn't the first
actually... but NTP paid off
some folks who had prior art). The idea itself wasn't new or all that innovative, and the timing was off, so NTP failed. In a functioning free market, that's a good thing. If a company can't execute, it should fail. Unfortunately, thanks to a ridiculously overbroad patent award, NTP has been able to live on as a bunch of lawyers suing any company that does figure out how to execute.
Perhaps the only good thing coming out of this is that it may help draw more attention to just how broken the patent system is.