Nor did it do anything to stop the continued flood of new patents streaming out of the agency: The office set a new record in 2011 by granting nearly 250,000.

There's also a newer, even more unsettling problem: The big companies that once complained about trolls are now treating them like role models.

According to the New York Times, last year was the first in which Apple and Google spent more on patent lawsuits and acquisitions than they did on research and development for new products. In August, Apple won a $1 billion patent-infringement judgment against competitor Samsung.

Michael Risch: A soldier in the patent cold war.
courtesy Michael Risch
Michael Risch: A soldier in the patent cold war.
Craig Hockenberry’s Iconfactory had to cough up a patent settlement to patent-troll Lodsys.
courtesy Craig Hockenberry
Craig Hockenberry’s Iconfactory had to cough up a patent settlement to patent-troll Lodsys.

Nest may have deeper pockets than most, but they still aren't as deep as Honeywell's. In early October, Nest announced that six of Honeywell's seven patents had been rejected in re-examination by the patent office. Yet Honeywell has so far refused to budge.

Which means that, ultimately, Nest may be the next to learn the most important rule of modern invention: that the best weapon against someone else's patents is a stockpile of your own.

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2 comments
sarokin
sarokin

Good, very interesting article. And kudos to the illustrator...I really like that Patent Wars picture.

sfreptile
sfreptile

The situation is far more dire than the article would suggest.  The America Invents Act was a mistake.  It will facilitate the robo-filing of equivocal "inventions" often using deliberately different "lingo" to avoid the typical "word" searches of today.

 

The use of Provisional Applications has not been well thought out. Shouldn't they be published like the IBM Abstracts of old?  What about "Over the Wall Technology," that is in the public domain where no-one needs a license?  Can't we define that body of useful art?

 

It seems the very companies that should be "in the know," are deliberately avoiding recognizing the prior art in the very field of their endeavor.  Yet the blame typically falls on the patent practitioner, who is invariably charged with deliberately deceiving the patent office.

 

But don't castigate the "trolls," the situation is very much like the early '50's when song writers and musicians were being, can we say screwed?   Rarely does the homeowner sell his or her home without a real estate agent. 

 

There really aren't that many true inventors, and until we start recognizing who they are, and rewarding them appropriately, we will have patent wars.

 
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