Opinion » Cybernaut


Rethinking patents in high tech



Is an idea really patentable? Or do you actually have to do something with that idea – design it, prototype it, test it and attempt to sell it – for a patent to mean anything?

Recently the tech world has been rocked by patent claims, some of them filed by companies that don’t do much of anything these days but had a good idea for something a long time ago with limited success. Others are stretching the general concept behind their patents to apply to similar technologies.

The recent NTP lawsuit against Research In Motion for software used on their Blackberry devices is a good example, as was RIM’s own patent lawsuit against a company called Good Technologies over keypad design.

After RIM settled the suit by NTP this year for about $612.5 million, another company called Visto stepped forward to sue RIM for four different patent infringements. See what happens when you settle for more than half a billion?

Apple is currently being sued by Creative, which alleges that Apple stole their concept for navigating through music files on an iPod – the third patent infringement suit to be filed against the iPod when you include suits by Pat-rights and Contois Music & Technology.

Apple Computers just beat a suit by Apple Records, the Beatles’ old label, because Apple Records thought it owned the whole patent on the ‘Apple + Music’ association – even if pressing vinyl LPs in the ‘70s has nothing to do with selling digital music through the Internet in 2006.

Another new suit was launched this week against the top U.S. cable companies – Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications and Comcast – by a small company called USA Video Technology. The suit alleges that the cable companies stole their general idea to offer video-on-demand services even though the original patent was filed in 1990, long before the move to high speed internet and the emergence of home digital video recorders.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on patent cases being waged by the tech industry that if nothing else it drives home importance of patenting all of your ideas.

All you really have to do is to imagine a new technology or a major variation of existing tech that you can realistically see emerging in the future. Then form a company to develop it. Write down the specifics of your idea, draw a few diagrams how it will work, and file your patent applications.

Then wait – when another company with an actual R&D department one day makes your idea a reality (and keep in mind there’s no such thing as a true original thought in technology – read your sci-fi) then hire yourself a team of lawyers and sue for millions. If you’re lucky the company will settle for a huge amount of money out of court and you can retire without doing more than filing some paperwork.