I gave Research in Motion a lot of criticism back when they were whining about someone actually enforcing a series of patents they wantonly ignored for years. My focus was on the arrogance and willful blindness that RIM seemed to display and my speculation that this, as much as anything else, caused them their present woes. Much as I hate being on the side of any Microsoft employee (much less a senior one) the Journal now has an interesting letter from Nathan Myhrvold on patent law along the same lines. ("D" reminds me that Nathan is a former MSFT type). Among the more compelling comments:
Tech companies work extremely hard to use state-of-the-art technology, and either be first to market or a fast follower -- all else falls by the wayside. Big tech companies are happy to hire the best people from rivals, universities and small companies. Their employees attend conferences and study technical papers to stay on the cutting edge. But they pretend that the patents on the technology in those papers, or from universities or small companies, don't exist. Many of the largest tech companies have a standing policy that engineers are not allowed to read patents or check whether their work infringes. Why bother to look, if you know you'll find lots of infringement? Besides the cost, it's a distraction that might hurt time to market. Their strategy is simple -- damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
RIM, the company behind the BlackBerry, recently paid $612 million to a company called NTP to settle a patent lawsuit. People love their BlackBerries, so it's tempting to see NTP as a villainous troll, but RIM wears the black hat in this story. It could have settled for a reasonable rate (several of its competitors did). Instead it bet the farm in court and proceeded to lose big. The judge ruled that "this was not a close case" and, further, that RIM's litigation tactics were "egregious" and "fraudulent." When a judge says things like that, most people would settle. Instead, RIM gambled on a series of ever more desperate legal maneuvers and enormously raised the stakes through brinksmanship. Hubris caused its loss, not the patent system.