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De-escalating the Android Patent War 63

In 2011, a consortium formed from Microsoft, Apple, Sony, BlackBerry, and others spent $4.5 billion acquiring Nortel's patent portfolio, which contained a great deal of ammunition that could be used against Android. That threat has now been reduced. Today, 4,000 of the patents were purchased by a corporation called RPX, which has licensing agreements from Google, Cisco, and dozens more companies. [RPX is] a company that collects a bunch of patents with the goal of using those patents for member companies for defensive purposes. Even though RPX has generally been "good," the business model basically lives because of patent trolling. Its very existence is because of all the patent trolling and abuse out there. In this case, though, it's making sure that basically anyone can license these patents under FRAND (fair and reasonable, non-discriminatory) rates. The price being paid is approximately $900 million. While that article points out that this is considerably less than the $4.5 billion Microsoft and Apple paid originally, again, this is only 4,000 of the 6,000 patents, and you have to assume the 2,000 the other companies kept were the really valuable patents. In short, this is basically Google and Cisco (with some help from a few others) licensing these patents to stop the majority of the lawsuits -- while also making sure that others can pay in as well should they feel threatened. Of course, Microsoft, Apple and the others still have control over the really good patents they kept for themselves, rather than give to Rockstar. And the whole thing does nothing for innovation other than shift around some money.
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De-escalating the Android Patent War

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  • It's not GOOD (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23, 2014 @11:25PM (#48665133)

    What it does is create a barrier to entry to a market and lock in the existing players. Instead of one patent covering an invention expiring after 20 years, an amorphous blob of non-patents is created to which the existing players join a pool.

    This is really no better than having one patent troll like Microsoft trying to block competitors with BS patents so weak it won't reveal them without an NDA. It's trying to hide weak patents in a fog of paperwork.

    The companies that bought into the patents are: 1) Confirming the validity of these junk patents ensuring troll MS continues to milk money for something it didn't invent, and 2) Ensures they will have the same trick to use against any new entrant.

    • by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2014 @02:30AM (#48665505) Journal

      Disclaimer: I am a patent holder

      I entered the field back in the 1970's and guess what? Patents were already there !

      While it is true that patent trolling were not considered to be trendy back then, but the existence of patents in itself had already stiffen innovation somewhat

      While we geeks and nerds kept on trying out new ideas, the institutions (universities and research labs) we worked for were sweating bricks and had to check with their attorneys to make sure that we were doing did not trespass on somebody else' patents

      The idea of patents were good, when it was invented, however, that idea does not suit the present days environment anymore. Due to the abuse and trolling, patents have become a big hindrance to the society to move forward

      • Patents... ugh (Score:4, Interesting)

        by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2014 @03:15AM (#48665593) Homepage Journal

        Software patents are utter bullshit from word one. They should just go away and stay away.

        Hardware patents are something else, but it's pretty clear they are being *very* poorly managed. I don't even like saying it, but I'm afraid I agree with you: they do more harm than good now.

        We need an entirely new model of encouraging invention. Trade secret is useful in providing a reasonable profit window and establishment of precedence in the marketplace (the only way to go with software, as far as I'm concerned) as the window you get correlates well with the complexity of what you've done, but has its limits when we're talking hardware.

        Perhaps a way for society to pay for an invention, and once that's been done, it goes right into the "available to everyone" pool. Panels of experts setting perceived value and an immediate payment being made, followed by a revisit ten years later to determine how it all went, with extra reward possible if the invention's impact was underestimated?

        Look at me, suggesting government committees. Oy. I should go bang my head on a table.

        But damn, we *really* need to clean out the drains. Patents are the disgusting glop that are making the system run slower and slower, while getting legal sewage all over everyone involved. The only consistent winners here are the plumbers (lawyers.)

        • by gnupun ( 752725 )

          Software patents are utter bullshit from word one. They should just go away and stay away.

          The main thing wrong with software patents is the nonobviousness bar. That bar should be a lot higher that it is before a patent is accepted. Something like the one-click patent should not be allowed.

          Hardware patents are something else, but it's pretty clear they are being *very* poorly managed.

          Digital hardware is not very different software, it's just more parallel and more limited than software.
          Verilog/VHDL are very

          • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

            The main thing wrong with software patents is the nonobviousness bar.

            It's bloody obvious you can write just about anything you're competent to write and that is possible to implement. That's the whole point of a generally programmable architecture. To then say, "look, ma, I wrote an algorithm!" and THEN expect that no one else is allowed to write the same thing... the only thing obvious about that is that it is stupid.

            Digital hardware is not very different software

            That's one case of doing digital hardware

            • by gnupun ( 752725 )

              But everyone gets a chance at it, and the inventor is already compensated.

              And why should they get a chance? What exactly have they done to deserve this chance? Absolutely nothing, they are just a bunch of evil freeloaders! Well, the inventor has probably been compensated enough according to you, but not according to the inventor.

              I want the inventor(s) paid well, and I want it to be related to the actual value of the invention.

              To your perceived actual value of the invention? Why should anyone care? The price

              • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

                And why should they get a chance?

                Because it's just an idea. It's not property. Also because that's the ultimate intent of our system. Patent owners get a short-term monopoly, society gets the idea after that. I'm trying to formulate a way that the benefit to society arrives sooner, as does at least some of the reward for the inventor -- without in the process creating a coerced monopoly at all.

                To your perceived actual value of the invention?

                No, not mine. I am suggesting first as an estimate by a group of

        • Cut the time in half, simple as that. We had need for such a long length in the old days because of how long it took to make a prototype, build a factory, get a product to market, etc but today with 3D printing and factories for hire,FPGAs and SOCs? Going from finished design to working product in hand in under a year is totally doable. So cut the time in half with the option of being extended to current but with a significant cost in the form of a yearly renewal that doubles every year to discourage patent

        • Software patents are utter bullshit from word one. They should just go away and stay away.

          Hardware patents are something else, but it's pretty clear they are being *very* poorly managed. I don't even like saying it, but I'm afraid I agree with you: they do more harm than good now.

          We need an entirely new model of encouraging invention. Trade secret is useful in providing a reasonable profit window and establishment of precedence in the marketplace (the only way to go with software, as far as I'm concerned) as the window you get correlates well with the complexity of what you've done, but has its limits when we're talking hardware.

          Perhaps a way for society to pay for an invention, and once that's been done, it goes right into the "available to everyone" pool. Panels of experts setting perceived value and an immediate payment being made, followed by a revisit ten years later to determine how it all went, with extra reward possible if the invention's impact was underestimated?

          Look at me, suggesting government committees. Oy. I should go bang my head on a table.

          But damn, we *really* need to clean out the drains. Patents are the disgusting glop that are making the system run slower and slower, while getting legal sewage all over everyone involved. The only consistent winners here are the plumbers (lawyers.)

          I don't consider algorithms to be patentable. But I consider a process to be patentable. What is the difference? An algorthim is an application of a set of defined rules that presents a proof, a set of steps to follow to a solution. An algorithm may be copyrighted. A process is a application of a set of rules to define the control or manufacture of a product. (Driver for hardware, agricultural process, or manufacturing process, fabrication process). If we deem an algorithm a process, then the writing of

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        The idea wasn't even that good when it was invented.

        “The granting of patents ‘inflames cupidity', excites fraud, stimulates men to run after schemes that may enable them to levy a tax on the public, begets disputes and quarrels betwixt inventors, provokes endless lawsuits...The principle of the law from which such consequences flow cannot be just.”

        That is what the Economist had to say about patents... in 1851. The idea that inventors (both people toiling in their garage and Big Pharm companies spending billions on medical R&D) should be encouraged to invest their effort into research and share the results by allowing them to profit from them, is a valid one. But patents are, and have been for over a century, a particularly poor way to ensure reward for inventors without stifling innovation. An

      • by WaywardGeek ( 1480513 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2014 @10:14AM (#48666725) Journal

        Patents back in the 1970s were only slightly broken compared to today. I've met several inventors or their relatives who invented things like milk cartons and every-day items we now take for granted. Up through the 1970s, "inventor" was a potential career path.

        That all changed rapidly starting in 1982, when Congress voted to give all patent appeal cases to a single appeals court in Washington DC [wikipedia.org]. This court basically created the patent troll industry. Before 1982, trolls would have been thrown out of court. Since then, this court has become a puppet to the patent troll industry [cato-unbound.org] through something called regulatory capture.

        I wont go into the evils of software patents here. It is a regular flame topic on slashdot. However, we can blame this appeals court for them. Most recently, I was shocked when they changed long standing precident and declared that APIs are copyrightable [wikipedia.org], which if upheld, has potential to end software development as we know it.

        I have several software patents. We are required to get them for defensive purposes. This is essentially a lawyer's tax on the software industry, with zero benefit to non-lawyers, so far as I can tell.

        • One more point... this patent pool thing is all bad, in that it keeps out new players, reducing innovation. Also, it does nothing to stop trolls, who have no product to protect. You can't counter-sue a troll, since they don't do anything, making it impossible for them to violate patents. Billions of dollars are being flushed down the toilet in this anti-innovation patent-lawyer shake-down.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      They claim that the patents are only to be used in self defence, and Google has a good track record of sticking to that.

      Maybe you are thinking of Rockstar, the group that includes Microsoft and Apple, which does use patents to stifle competition.

  • Value? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2014 @12:52AM (#48665343) Homepage
    Without knowing anything about these patents it is impossible to put that value into perspective; Did MS just taking a tremendous loss or did they score big time? They paid 4.5 billion, now a few years latter how does that price look taking this sale into consideration? Did Microsoft end up losing their shirt, taking only like 20% of the cost for 66% of the patents? Or is and was 80+% of the value of the hoard in the remaining 33%?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      They sold the small fish at price value. This is de-escalating war in the sense you lose some soldiers so they won't fight any more.

    • It's interesting how it's Apple that mostly did everything and how the summary led people like you to mention only Microsoft. Typical biased Slashdot bullshit.
      Not to mention other companies are part of Rockstar like RIM, EMC, Ericsson, Sony. Apple bought some patents from Rockstart in 2012 for like $1B.

      From http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/... [techcrunch.com]

      By the fifth round of bidding, it was Rockstar Bidco that decided not to submit a bid. This brought the group of bidders down to three: Google, Apple, and Intel.

      Then something really interesting happened.

      Following Rockstar’s seeming exit, Apple asked Nortel for permission to talk to the group about a possible partnership. This request was granted. Following these discussions, Apple decided they wanted to partner with Rockstar and adopt their name and transaction structure.

      Essentially, Apple decided to stake the Rockstar group in this high-stakes poker game.

  • by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2014 @01:31AM (#48665423)

    Patents should be granted to an individual or their assigned company - and then NOT allowed to be transferred. If it's really intellectual property, require that it be used by the intellectual who came up with it, not randomly sold to some giant team of lawyers who try to "monetize" it 10 years after the fact.

    That would allow any person - or company that person worked for at the time - to take full advantage of the patent for its original purpose (since almost all patent trolls are not the original inventors) while preventing the soul-sucking leeches on innovation who just want to buy up a bunch of "intellectual property" and speculatively sue anyone who might be doing something remotely similar.

    • by Dracos ( 107777 )

      That's a really good idea, but... cue inane "coprorations are people" counter-argument.

      • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

        But how does that change my point? (and I know you don't necessarily disagree...)

        Assign the patent to the corporation sponsoring the patent, fine, I agree with that. Just don't allow it to be transferred to another of those corporate peoples. Or hell, maybe if the corporation is bought outright, you could consider transferring *all* patents, etc. But the fact is many patent trolls just pick and choose absurd patents that their lawyers end up finding an angle that's good enough for the ignorant juries wh

      • by unrtst ( 777550 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2014 @03:22AM (#48665607)

        That's a really good idea, but... cue inane "coprorations are people" counter-argument.

        It's a crap idea. If patents could not be transferred, then if person X worked for company Y, and then went to company Z, they'd be taking the patents with them with no means to leave them with the company that was using them.
        Furthermore, it doesn't solve anything... company X can buy company Y and then give themselves free licensing rights and have their legal team take over suing others just as companies do now. If you're thinking, "you wouldn't be allowed to only buy the patents", that's trivial to work around... sell off all the other parts of the business, leaving only the patents, then sell everything that's left (just the patents).
        Regardless, one could still assign full rights to manage said patent portfolio to some 3rd party company. That would be nearly impossible to avoid - just consider the 3rd party as a bunch of lawyers and have them do all the same stuff those 3rd parties are doing today, simply leaving the actual patent assignment where it was.

        How about we modify that solution a little... (NOTE: this is a proposal, not a statement of the current situation)

        #1. corporations are not people (not sure which way you meant that counter-argument to read).
        #2. corporations can not hold patents
        #3. people can transfer patents to other people, or sell licensing agreements with terms of their choosing

        FWIW, I do not claim that would solve the problem either. I think that's better than the current situation, but it's still fairly easy to manipulate and end up in a functionally identical situation. Someone patents something while working for a company; company draws up paperwork to have a zero cost licensing agreement with that employee (or maybe gives them a bonus or something... up to them); company and employee could agree to sign over the rights to some other person at the company; company would essentially own the patent. There'd be more ways to get a patent out of the loop, but with the right paperwork in place it wouldn't matter.

        There are a bunch of real problems with the current system, but the ownership thing is really more of a symptom of those issues than an actual problem.

        * software patents. This is highly debated. IMO, these should go away completely. I'm speaking as a programmer, and I believe copyright is sufficient.
        * patent trolls. The solution that this article is referring to is actually just another form of patent troll. It's an entity that owns a bunch of patents, does nothing with them itself, and licenses them out. It's doing this for "good" here, but it's still charging a significant amount (kickstarter isn't going to get you access to these).
        * crappy patents. Far too many obvious ideas are allowed to be patented. This isn't really anything new. You should see how many patents existed for various paper clips. I'm not convinced that adding ridges to an existing paperclip design justified a new patent by a new owner, for example. There's an awful lot of grey area, and I don't have a very good solution for this - it's all just opinion.
        * bogus patents. Far too many are granted that have pre-existing implementations. On one hand, I think that, if the patent system can't keep up with the filings and do thorough checks, then they should charge more for filing so they can afford to do the checks. On the other hand, patents should be affordable for the average joe, else one of the primary purposes is complete dead. Perhaps it should be significantly easier and cheaper to challenge a patent without involving the owner at all (ie. send in a form, proof/examples of existing work, a check, and have it reviewed).
        * vague infringement claims. If some entity claims publicly that something/someone is infringing on a bunch of its thousands of patents, it should have to provide evidences and references of some degree. If they don't, it should be handled somewhat like slander. These threats disrupt the market and hurt others without

        • For me, one of the solution would be to ask for the detail of all the work and expenses which lead to the creation of an idea when submitting it for a patent. If the patent is just about an idea someone had while eating lunch at a restaurant and only required only a few days of work to put it on paper, sorry, but no patent.

          Also, the value of the patent should be directly proportionate to the cost of developing the idea behind it. Patents should not be a lottery, they should only reward work.

        • If patents could not be transferred, then if person X worked for company Y, and then went to company Z, they'd be taking the patents with them with no means to leave them with the company that was using them.

          I don't think it's necessarily a very good idea, I think the problems with IP can be solved by shortening the terms of protection on both patents and copyrights, but I don't necessarily see this as a bug. Corporations should be encouraged to reward their employees fairly. Such a system would do that.

        • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

          It's a crap idea. If patents could not be transferred, then if person X worked for company Y, and then went to company Z, they'd be taking the patents with them with no means to leave them with the company that was using them.

          You need to read what I said a bit better. Of course they can be assigned to the original company who funded the work (i.e. the employer of the inventor(s).

          company X can buy company Y and then give themselves free licensing rights and have their legal team take over suing others just as companies do now

          If a company completely *buys* another company, in effect it is now that company. But that would SIGNIFICANTLY cut down on patent trolls (the whole point of this) as it would make it a much more expensive, complex, and risky undertaking. For example. Google did buy Motorola, keep most of the patent rights, and sell of the rest - but it cost them MANY

    • by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2014 @04:34AM (#48665755)

      Patents should be granted to an individual or their assigned company - and then NOT allowed to be transferred.

      Nice try. So what justification are you giving for this? For example, if I made an invention that could greatly improve any smartphone, you are saying that it is essentially useless unless I start building smartphones and compete with Google and Apple? I'm not allowed to sell this invention to either of them? Please explain why that would be good.

      You are basically making sure that only big companies will ever be able to get patents and make use of them.

      • by Unipuma ( 532655 )

        I don't agree with the whole patent thing, the more I hear about it, the more I get the feeling that the person it is supposed to protect (lone developers can't afford the patent process and large corporations lock the marketplace down with them).

        Still, if you have a patent, you don't need to sell it. You can license the patent. That what the whole idea was about. So you could make a great smartphone invention, have a patent, and Samsung and Apple would pay you money to use the patent without you having to

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          Still, if you have a patent, you don't need to sell it. You can license the patent. That what the whole idea was about. So you could make a great smartphone invention, have a patent, and Samsung and Apple would pay you money to use the patent without you having to sell it.

          You can't sell a patent. They're not really "owned". (This always comes up, as if /. posters refuse to learn about IP law just like non-tech people refuse to learn about computers. Hrm...).

          Look at any patent and you'll see an inventor's li

      • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

        Not at all. There is a huge difference between *licensing* a patent and *selling* the patent. Licensing means someone pays you to use it. Selling it means someone buys it and can do whatever they want with it (and in fact, you have given up the right to use it).

        If you invent something, you can have an exclusive on it, or you can license it to companies that want to use it. That's how the system was INTENDED to work, and how it has worked for a ling time. Patent trolls (usually companies made mostly of

    • That completely ruins the one case which is commonly cited as the reason for patents... to protect the individual inventor. An inventor typically sells their patent to an entity that can actually do something with it (rather than having to build a business around it all on their own, which is probably not their skill). If a patent holder cannot licence or transfer their property then there won't be any point in getting one (or doing the work in the first place) and only companies will get patents.

      • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

        Who said they can't license the patent? Of course they can license it, they just can't sell/transfer it outright, and none of the licensees can directly sue other companies for violating it. If anything that does protect the original inventor (or the original company it was assigned to).

  • by lippydude ( 3635849 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2014 @03:54AM (#48665679)
    Nov 2008 [theinquirer.net]: "RPX is funded by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Charles Rivers Ventures. Its two chief executives, John Amster and Geoffrey Barker, previously served as vice presidents of Intellectual Ventures, another company in the business of purchasing patents."
    • It's right in the article: "RPX is sort of the 'good version of Intellectual Ventures.'...it's making sure that basically anyone can license these patents under FRAND (fair and reasonable, non-discriminatory) rates."

  • Everybody, including the people who wrote the summary are treating patents as if they were perpetual - but they are not.

    AFAIK the really good patents (about the FAT-filesystem) are expiring 2015. There are still some shady non-essential FAT-patents that expire IIRC until 2017, but those are easily worked around, have tons of prior art, are about non-essential features and/or are laughably frivolous.

    So of course a patent-portfolio purchased in 2011 may be worth a lot less today. It may be even worthless, dep

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