Google lawyer says the patent system is broken.
In a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Google’s patent lawyer, Tim Porter, talks about how the current patent system is basically broken, and how companies are exploiting it to tax the success of others.
Google’s highly popular smartphone OS, Android, is provided free to companies, which they can then tweak or use it as-is on their mobile handsets. This has helped companies like Samsung, HTC and LG big players in the global smartphone market, going head to head with the likes of Nokia, Motorola and Apple. Combined, the Android OS accounts for 43% of global market share of smartphones. However, companies like Oracle, Apple and Microsoft say that Google has used their patented software to create Android, which has led to many a messy lawsuits. Where Oracle has sued Google directly, Apple has, instead, gone for Samsung, who are as of last quarter, the biggest smartphone retailer in the world.
“For too long, the patent office granted protection to broad, vague or unoriginal ideas masquerading as inventions. That inevitably led to the legal dramas now unfolding,” said Porter.
When talking about the fact the Microsoft is forcing most of Google’s Android partners into licensing agreements, Porter said, “This is a tactic that Microsoft has used in the past, with Linux, for example. When their products stop succeeding in the marketplace, when they get marginalized, as is happening now with Android, they use the large patent portfolio they’ve built up to get revenue from the success of other companies’ products.”
The key issue is how companies have been able to get software patents until very recently. “I think what many people can agree on is the current system is broken and there are a large number of software patents out there fueling litigation that resulted from a 10- or 15-year period when the issuance of software patents was too lax,” said Porter. “Things that seemed obvious made it through the office until 2007, when the Supreme Court finally said that the patent examiners could use common sense.”
“The period of intense patent assertions (against things like the steam engine) resulted in decades-long periods of stagnation,” he added. “Innovation only took off when the patents expired.”
The only way to fix this problem is that, “The legal system should say you shouldn’t patent something that’s obvious. What we have to do is have real standards for what is patentable.”
“At the end of the day, damages, injunctions and remedies have to be proportional to the value of the invention,” noted Porter. “Very often, what is fueling patent-troll lawsuits is the ability to go into court and seek astronomical damages based on what any rational person would consider a minor component of the product.”