I wasn’t planning on writing a lot of blog posts about articles I’ve read (that’s what the Twitter feed is for and I hope some of you will follow me there or come back to the website to see the tweets) but an interview I read in the Boston Globe this weekend was so spot on I couldn’t resist.
The title is Challenging Apple in patent court, and winning by Hiawatha Bray found in the Business section as part of their On the Hot Seat column. The person “on the hot seat” in this instance is Steven Bauer, partner of Proskauer Rose LLC in Boston who led the legal team representing MobileMedia Ideas, a patent licensing company made up of Nokia, Sony and MPEG LA. They sued Apple on patents covering camera phones, the “ignore” feature, and “call handling”.
The first half of the interview discusses Apple and this case in particular but it is the second half, when a discussion of the patent system in general takes places, where the conversation really gets interesting. The interviewer is clearly in the “patents stifle innovation” camp but Mr. Bauer does an excellent job of countering each assertion made by Bray.
In particular, when asked about patents which should never have been granted in the first place, since they are “trivial innovations”, Bauer answered with the following:
“Here’s the real problem. You have one patent system for all technology, and nobody knows of an easy way to have different laws for different technologies. The pharmaceutical world and the biotech world — the patent system, they think, works just fine. One patent on a drug lasts for 20 years. They’re perfectly happy with that.
The technology world says, our technology changes every three months. Why are we being sued on patents issued 15 years ago? But you can’t create different sets of rules.”
I also really enjoyed his answer to a question regarding the patenting of “trivial features”:
“That goes to the value of the invention, not the patentability of the invention. The patent office gives you the same patent whether it’s valuable or not.”
Brilliant, and oh so very true!
When asked about how the system can be fixed, Bauer outlined what sounds an awful lot like the post-grant review options which were introduced with the America Invents Act.
“We need a way to screen these cases in the courts earlier, so that if the patent is bad, we can decide that well before we spend a million dollars going to the jury.”
The entire interview is well worth reading and I certainly appreciated Mr. Bauer’s pragmatic approach to explaining how the US patent system actually works on behalf of the legitimate licensee.