The new patent troll economy

Microsoft pays patent fees; film at eleven

Normally, this story wouldn’t even be news — patent deals are cut all the time — but there’s an obvious strategy being developed here. Microsoft has identified patents as the most effective attack against anyone seeking to profit from FOSS. Rather than attack FOSS directly, you dump as much money as you can in to littering the intellectual property space for a given product with patent mines. Step on a patent mine and all of the sudden you’re paying Microsoft (or someone else) for sitting on their ass and building a patent portfolio rather than innovating with any real products.

Under the old rules of engagement, patents were the equivalent of nuclear warheads. No one really wanted to use them, but they were good for making sure that your buddies across the street didn’t fire off a salvo of patent suits in your direction. The problem for FOSS is that software patents are ideologically reprehensible to most of the people involved, therefore patents are not sought, and the intellectual property battlefield falls in to the hands of the patent trolls and big corporations.

As things stand today, we’re looking at a future where patents become a large market in and of themselves. Big corporations will push for international cooperation for patent enforcement, and up-and-coming companies who benefit from FOSS are going to face significant new risks. The biggest losers will be consumers. Virtually all of the new internet giants stand on the shoulders of FOSS. It’s only matter of time before the patent trolls find ways to attack everyone using their “IP”.

How do you like them AAPLs?

I have doubts that this will stick, but a Taiwanese chip maker who previously sued (successfully) Synaptic is going after Apple for their use of multi-touch. In the words of Michael Scott: “Well, well, well. How the turn tables.”