Last year David Weston and I wrote a teaching case on how in 2000, NTP sued Research in Motion (makers of the popular BlackBerry device) for infringing its patents that cover the wireless delivery of email (free download from WIPO). Well, NTP is at it again, and has just sued a number of firms including Apple, Google, LG, Motorola, HTC and Microsoft that make smartphones. The Washington Post has a brief description of the patents. The earlier case ended with a $600+ million settlement, but that large amount was partly the result of (a) RIM was found to have willfully infringed NTP’s patents and attempted to deceive the court when presenting evidence of “prior art” in 2002, and (b) as the case escalated, RIM faced the very real threat of having its US operations closed down in 2005. A number of the original patent claims were subsequently revoked, but I imagine that NTP is hoping that the larger base of email users these days will give it enough licensing revenue from each of the mobile operators. If you haven’t heard of NTP, that is because the company is sometimes thought of as a patent troll and is not well-loved. In my opinion, the lawsuit also highlights a more subtle problem with the patent system. When successful firms like RIM and Nokia choose to settle with companies like NTP, it gives NTP an incentive and the financial resources to then attack a broader group of other firms. A precedence is also set. It would be better if such firms fought back, e.g., by establishing prior art that invalidates such patents or by pushing back on the claims.
Should Genes be Patented? This is a question of tremendous importance, and one that is the subject of an Australian Senate Inquiry. Chris Dent and I sent in a submission on behalf of IPRIA and CITE, which is available here. We believe there is insufficient empirical evidence (yet) upon which to make specific changes to patent law. Other people have quite different views, as expressed in their submissions. Next month, we are organizing a CITE & IRIA public event on this topic. It will include a discussion by four panelists: Gillian Mitchell of the PeterMac Cancer Centre, Gregory Mandel from Temple University, Dianne Nicol from the University of Tasmania, and Dan Peled from Haifa University in Israel. The event will be chaired and moderated by Joshua, and will include a 45-minute public debate. Post your thoughts here. Or better still, sign up for the event at http://www.ipria.org/events/seminar/Patenting%20Genes.html