Patently Absurd

The past couple of weeks have offered an amazing ringside view of an unusually public and acrimonious debate over software patents.

First, This American Life aired When Patents Attack, a fantastic expose of Intellectual Ventures, a patent holding company owned by Microsoft’s one-time CTO Nathan Myhrvold. The episode leads listeners to the seemingly inevitable conclusion that companies like Intellectual Ventures are at the root of all that’s wrong with the US patent system. It’s a must-listen for anyone involved in, or merely interested in, intellectual property law.

Then, last week, after losing out on a huge bidding war for Nortel’s patent portfolio, Google published a blog post lamenting the current state of the US patent system, and accused its competitors of conspiring against Google and leveraging a broken and ineffective patent system to their advantage. The post has since snowballed into a public mud-slinging match with Microsoft, with each side accusing the other of anti-competitive behaviour.

Many are calling for change with the US patent system, particularly with software patents, and these developments underscore how desperately that change is needed.

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