Yesterday, GoMo News published an article about Google’s win of a powerful patent over the use of location in mobile advertising. We proposed that this was done simply so that Google would have a defensive patent to threaten Apple with – but it looks like Apple could be the least of Googles worries. The whole mobile world seems to have gone patent crazy.
This fantastic graph was published over on the NYTimes blog:
As you can see, it shows the complete mess of lawsuits that currently exist in the mobile industry. But this is a fairly recent phenomenon. Up until last year most mobile companies were content to pool resources and technology to a certain extent – just as long as no one acted abusively, everything proceeded along just fine.
The NYTimes talked to Eric Von Hippel, a professor of technological innovation at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management. He blamed it on “patent trolls”. And a patent troll is a much more insidious beast than your average on-line troll. The term describes companies or people who grab patents they have no intention of using – they just lie in wait for someone else to become successful with similar technology, and then sue them.
Is this a new thing?
Absolutely not, the term “patent troll” itself has been used since the early 90s. It’s a common and unfortunate practice. So why has the mobile industry started trolling itself now? The Decline of the Empire, I would imagine. Things are so bad now that even the largest of companies are feeling the pinch. Just look at the stream of bad revenue reports for 2009. It’s not inconceivable for even the largest mobile OEMs to start going under. And once one company started using patents aggressively, it didn’t take long for everyone else to follow suit.