Why the Coming Patent Crisis Is Inevitable
A week isn’t complete in the tech industry without somebody suing somebody else over patents.
This time, Facebook is countersuing Yahoo, charging that Yahoo violated 10 of its patents. This move, of course, comes less than a month after Yahoo sued Facebook for allegedly infringing on 10 of its patents.
Facebook’s countersuit shouldn’t surprise anybody; it was always going to fight fire with fire, especially since Yahoo started this unnecessary fight. It’s the same reason Facebook purchased 750 patents from IBM last month — it needed more ammunition in a patent arms race that is quickly escalating.
But I’m shocked by some of the patents over which these two companies are suing each other. One of Yahoo’s patents focuses on the “optimum placement of advertisements on a webpage”, while Facebook has two patents that cover a “system for controlled distribution of user profiles over a network.” Yahoo owns the patent for a “method to determine the validity of an interaction on a network”, but “generating a feed of stories personalized for members of a social network” belongs to Facebook.
You really can receive a software patent for almost anything these days, it seems.
Facebook and Yahoo aren’t the only ones collecting patents and threatening to use them like stockpiled nuclear weapons, though. Here are just some of the patent disputes that have made headlines in the last two weeks: Apple and Samsung, Microsoft and Motorola, RIM and NXP, Oracle and Google, and Tivo and Motorola.
Patents have played an important role in protecting an inventor’s intellectual property and fostering innovation throughout history. However, their usefulness in software is far more limited, and in recent years has simply become damaging to innovation, thanks to patent trolls using IP they’ve acquired to sue smaller tech companies and make a quick buck.