RIM BlackBerry settles lawsuit; Patent Trolling?


For the last year and a half, Research in Motion (RIM) has been in a bitter dispute with patent holding company NTP over software patents used by the popular Blackberry wireless email/PDA service. NTP claimed that RIM was illegally infringing on their software patent with their Blackberry service. The problem occured in software protocols and code within the service itself. The lawsuit came to the point where the entire service was going to be shut down and subscribers would have to regroup and move on to a new service. This month, though, RIM settled it’s lawsuit with NTP. This news made millions of subscribers happy that they don’t have to spend thousands of dollars switching to new providers.

While this is good for Blackberry subscribers (of which I am not one), I wonder what this means for future technology. The practice NTP used above is called patent trolling. Holding companies will buy up obscure patents and search for any technology that is infringing, however slightly, on it’s patent. This can be bad in several ways. A lot of these lawsuits are not by the original patent owner, they are by a holding company that had nothing whatsoever to do with the original patent, and, by and large, probably don’t even understand their patent. It’s really just a financial game for the holding company. They may not even win their case, but all they need to do is find that one product with the large company…….then jackpot.

For me, this can only stifle the advances a company will make in technology. If companies are afraid to research and create breakthroughs because they are worried about infringing on some obscure patent, then that’s not good for anybody. Something needs to be done about these holding companies doing nothing but trying to earn a quick buck on innovations they neither created nor had anything to do with.

On the other side, I think there needs to be some reform in the Patent Office. Many of the patents given today are for simple, obvious programming, not so much innovations. Amazon patented it’s ‘One-Click Ordering’ system which seems, to me, more like short cut programming as opposed to an innovation. Maybe I’m wrong. I also think the rules for software patents need to be written more clearly and maybe the Patent Office needs to mine through it’s patent catalogs and do some re-thinking, maybe hire more patent officers and train them better. Stop a lot of the frivolous patents that are getting through the system.

Either way, reform probably needs to happen (both consumer and gov’t side) because in the corporate battle of patents, I think the purpose of the Patent Office, protecting the little guy who actually created the innovation, is becoming forgotten.

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