Software patents are the patents given for the codes written on computer and used to run different programs. Software patents have become a trend for MNCs nowadays as almost every company is trying to get as much patents as they can get on their softwares. One of the reasons is to safeguard their intellectual property and the other is to use them against competitors to get compensation from them for using their patents. This has lead to many patent battles that the current world is seeing.
Every major technology company is a part of this ongoing patent battle and Apple is the most significant player who is involved with almost every other company in patent battle. Apple recently won a lawsuit of $1 billion from Samsung which shows the world, power of Apple. Apple hadn’t been this way always, it started when Apple itself became a victim of patent attack and after that the company decided to use patents as leverage against competitors.
In 2006 when Apple was about to unveil iPhone, company headquarters had become a frenzy of programming sessions and meetings between engineers and executives and also patent lawyers. This was because Apple had just paid $100 million to Creative Technology. CT had applied for a software patent for “portable music playback device” five years back and that bore similarities to iPod. When this patent was granted to CT, Apple had to pay damages to CT.
And now Apple is in multiple lawsuits with three other giants in mobile industry that are HTC, Samsung and Motorola Mobility which is a part of Google now. No doubt these lawsuits are for technologies that are market changing but some also includes minor elements like rounded square icons and if Apple wins these lawsuits it won’t be good for mobile industry.
HTC, Samsung, Motorola and others have filed numerous suits of their own, also trying to claim ownership of market-changing technologies.
Steve Jobs after 2006 incident had said that if someone at Apple can dream it up, then it should be patented because even if they never build it, it’s a defensive tool.
A complaint is heard a lot in the industry and that is due to increasing asserted on ownership of broad technologies. This is only leading to destructive arms race. This is also a reason for patent trolling which have hurted patent industry to unhealing effect.
The filing rate of computer related or others patent applications have increased by more than 50% in last decade. Google has received 2700 patents after 2000 and Microsoft have received 21000.
And as patent portfolios have expanded, so have pressures to use them against competitors.
With increase in filing of patent applications, patent lawsuits have also increased. The patent lawsuits in US district courts have almost tripled in last two decades.
Microsoft has sued Motorola; Motorola has sued Apple and Research in Motion; Research in Motion has sued Visto, a mobile technology company; and in August, Google, through its Motorola unit, sued Apple, contending that Siri had infringed on its patents. All of these companies have also been sued numerous times by trolls. Details can be seen in the picture below.
Are software patents still useful?
According to a study by two Boston University professors, patents for softwares and some kinds of electronics, particularly smartphones are now so problematic that they contribute to a so called patent tax that adds as much as 20% to company’s research and development costs.
Examples where patents from other industries have become problematic are also there.
In 1999, for instance, two men received a patent for a crust less, sealed peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (The J. M. Smucker Company acquired the patent and used it to sue other food makers. In 2007, after press scrutiny, federal officials canceled the patent.)
A year earlier, the patent office had awarded an Illinois company effective ownership of many of the basic systems that power the Internet. That firm sued a number of tech giants, persuading many to sign multimillion-dollar settlements, until a jury declared some of the patents invalid in 2011.
A patent no. 8086604 by US Giant Apple has been proved very vital. Apple sued Samsung stating that Samsung’s 17 devices violated 8086604. Apple won that lawsuit and judge banned Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus ruling that the phone infringed on Apple’s patent because it featured a “Google quick search box” that allowed users to enter one search term, either typed or spoken and that returned results simultaneously from the Internet, contacts stored on the phone and recently visited Web sites.
Many universities and companies don’t like the idea of software patents and they want to abolish them. Some of them stated as follows:
· The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis who recently published a paper for abolition of patents stating that do more harm than good.
· A group of organization said that there should be different classes of patents, so that some kinds of inventions, like pharmaceuticals, would receive 20 years of ironclad protection, while others, like software, would receive shorter and more flexible terms.
· Twitter released an “Innovator’s Patent Agreement” in 2012 which intended to give software engineers some control over how their creations are used. Under the terms of the agreement, companies pledge that patents will be used only for defensive purposes.
· A law school faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, has also proposed a “Defensive Patent License”. In this companies will contribute patents to a common pool that will shield participants from litigious aggressors.
In India patents are not granted on softwares but wherever they are granted, I don’t think that it’s a good practice. This is because every program we are using nowadays is being run on one or the other software and if software is patented then after some time every guy on this planet would be infringing one or the other software patent and companies would be filling lawsuits against all companies. This would be a big chaos and patents filed on softwares only results in chaos and loss of innovation. More the lawsuits with respect to softwares more will be the amount that companies spend in court and that will in turn lead to loss of revenues from R&D of companies. Thus, companies are left with only fewer amounts for new innovations and research work.