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Pre-emptive Patents

Stephen Shankland writes an interesting analysis about why Microsoft is aggressively seeking patents in response to open source patents. He quotes Red Hat’s Mark Webbink:

“Their interest only came along once they had their dominant position, because patents gave them the ability to restrict competition. That’s what patents are about: maintaining market share and preventing others from competing effectively,” Webbink said.

He said Microsoft would have been in a very different position if companies had begun seeking software patents earlier. “What if Dan Bricklin had a patent on Viscalc, or Wordstar on PC word processors, or Harvard Graphics on presentation graphics? Where would (Microsoft) Word or Excel or PowerPoint be today? These patents would have only expired in the last five or six years,” Webbink said. “For some of us, our word processors would still have been a pen or a pencil on a pad.”

But Webbink also noted that it costs at least $5,000 for a company to review just one patent to judge whether the patent is valid and whether the company’s technology infringes it. When larger competitors have thousands of patents, it becomes prohibitively expensive to conduct that review. There’s another financial incentive for big companies to keep up with patent grabs: Applying for one costs merely $15,000, but defending a patent lawsuit typically costs millions of dollars.

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