Eric Schmidt says patents will slow progress

By September 2, 2011Google, Innovation

When Google surprised everyone and bought Motorola’s device business for $12.5bn back in August there was a lot of speculation as to their motives, but the consensus seemed to be that the portfolio of 17,000 patents was the principle attraction.  It struck me as kind of crazy that we have a world where Google feels the need to shell out that much money to protect the Android ecosystem and I wrote a blog post titled Software patents – a brake on innovation.

At the Dreamforce conference yesterday Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt chimed in on the patent issue saying much the same thing.  The following quotes are from Eric as reported on Techcrunch and Venturebeat (emphasis mine):

Search giant Google chairman and former chief executive officer Eric Schmidt slammed regulators and patent trolls at Salesforce.com’s annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco today, saying the patent wars would slow down an impending mobile and device revolution started by Apple’s iPhone.

You all may not know that essentially all the patent fights that are interesting are done in one district, the East District Court of Texas”, he told the audience. “How this is possible is beyond me. But again, it doesn’t feel quite right. Patents are important, but let’s do them in a way that’s systematic

Today, Schmidt was less incendiary than Google reps have been in the past, saying that when the price rose to about $4.5 billion on the Nortel patents, Google dropped out of the running because the patents had become “too pricey” and that the value of these “questionable patents” had gone through the roof — perhaps for the wrong reasons.

Schmidt suggested that the real problem with the current patent landscape in the U.S. has longstanding causes; in the early ’90s and early 2000s, he said, there were a lot of patents issued that “were very broad”, and that patent clerks are now spending a lot of time combing through and invalidating these older patents.

The patent system has evolved into a sprawling mess whose effect is now to slow innovation rather than protect it.  It is good to see someone as prominent as Eric Schmidt calling that out.  He also said that there is legislation before Congress which will help alleviate the problem, although eradication would be better than alleviation.

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