GeekWire readers have been engaged in an intense debate over the past week about the role of software patents — a discussion that arose after This American Life featured an in-depth expose on the business tactics of Bellevue’s Intellectual Ventures.
One of the main takeaways of the piece is that the patent system in the U.S. is fundamentally flawed.
Even so, companies are continuing to arm themselves with patents, mainly for defensive purposes. The latest is Google, which confirmed that it purchased a set of patents from IBM earlier this month.
Bloomberg reports that the purchase comes as the search giant faces as many as six lawsuits related to its Android mobile operating system.
In April, Google lost a high-profile patent case in Texas over the use of Linux in Android mobile phones. Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to assert its patent portfolio, pressuring makers of Android devices to pay royalties.
“The tech industry has a significant problem,” Google General Counsel Kent Walker told Bloomberg. “Software patents are kind of gumming up the works of innovation.”
That was also the conclusion of several of the experts — including venture capitalist Chris Sacca (a former Google employee) — who were interviewed in the This American Life piece.
In March, Intellectual Ventures entered into a licensing agreement with RIM to give the BlackBerry maker access to its massive patent portfolio.
At the time of the RIM deal, Intellectual Ventures predicted that more litigation would occur in the mobile industry.
“The reality is that as devices get more and more complex and contain even more features, no single company can own all the patents relevant to technology within an average mobile device. In fact, it’s been estimated that the average smartphone contains thousands of patents relating to software, hardware, messaging, connectivity and more.”