When products begin to falter, pursue patents

Patent inventions, or ideas? When it comes to software, the line is fuzzy -- and the system is broken either way, Google patent counsel Tim Porter says.

Patents: for inventions, or merely ideas?

The San Francisco Chronicle published on Sunday a fascinating interview with Google's patent counsel, Tim Porter, who argues that the system itself is broken and that Microsoft -- sometime partner, sometime bitter rival -- pursues patent litigation when its own products "stop succeeding in the marketplace."

"The concern is that the more people get distracted with litigation, the less they'll be inventing," Porter said to columnist James Temple.

Five things I learned from the Q&A:

  1. "Innovation happens without patents." In other words, deregulation helps.
  2. A large part of the current mobile court scrum is due to "a 10- or 15-year period when the issuance of software patents was too lax."
  3. "You shouldn't patent something that's obvious." The question, of course, is what's obvious to whom.
  4. Huge damages awards are fueling patent lawsuits. Bring these more into scale with the complaint and reduce the backlog of frivolous claims.
  5. This environment has pressured companies like Google to spend enormous sums of money to purchase patent portfolios for legal defense.

As a side note, Ars Technica's Tim Lee goes deeper into the issue, examining the levers that could (or couldn't) make litigation less appealing. His conclusion? Google is part of the problem, because it's spending too much time buying into the system instead of reforming it.

What say you, developers?

Google lawyer: Why the patent system is broken [SF Chronicle]