Monday, January 23, 2006

Crackberry Infringement

     I'm not a Blackberry user. I have a Palm Treo, but I'm too cheap to pay Verizon $45 a month for slow wireless internet. I already have Comcast's slow, wired internet at home, thank you very much. And I didn't even get my first cellphone until 2001. So maybe I'm not the right person to comment on Backberry's impending cycle of destruction. Full disclosure: I do get a little annoyed when everyone asks if my Treo is a Blackberry. It's petty, I know, but I have no interest in being associated with Crackberry Addicts.
     Anyway, I'm a little torn on this story. Like any American, I feel compelled to take sides so I can, you know, root for someone. But since this issue is mainly between one business, another business, and business-people, I don't really have a dog in the fight. Besides, it's much more fun watching Right-wingers battle it out with their unworkable dogma: Capitalism (and by extension business) is the best thing ever and we should let businesses do whatever they want.
     If you're not familiar with the case, on one hand you have RIM, the makers of Blackberry. On the other, you have NTP, a holding company for the patents of the late Thomas Campana. Campana came up with a method to integrate email systems with wireless networks back in the early 90's. He patented the system and put the patent in a file cabinet and waited. Along comes RIM with their Blackberries and their ability to access email on wireless networks. NTP said, "We own the patent, you have to license it from us." RIM said "Go to hell." And the war was on.
     Pro-Blackberry Right-wingers say that it's not fair that some stoopid little "company" that doesn't even make anything should be able to tell a big corporation like Blackberry what to do. They emphasize the fact that NTP is not a manufacturer in order to discredit them. Never mind that people like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Ben Franklin all invented things without manufacturing them - their strengths were in creating products and not necessarily in overseeing someone operating machinery.
     On the other hand, Pro-NTP Right-wingers say this is just Capitalism in action and if NTP can extort $1 billion from RIM, then so be it. Forcing companies to license their technology to anyone who wants it and whatever price they name smacks of Socialism, and the Pharmaceutical companies are inclined to agree with that position. Granted, this group is considerably smaller, given that NTP requires the courts to collect. Wild West justice never used the courts (except as a handy place to lynch outlaws) and NTP seems to fit the Liberal whiny model.
     Some commentators complain that since NTP wasn't actively using its patent, there's no harm done. They say there's no proof that RIM ever actually copied NTP - maybe they developed the idea on their own. Of course, this is irrelevant. When NTP filed its patent, it made a deal with the US government that it would give out the details of its idea to anyone who wanted it, for free, in exchange for protection from unauthorized use. Without this protection, how many of our tools of everyday life would be little more than sketches sitting in someone's drawer? I might be a brilliant physicist who comes up with a way to copy matter and "reprint" it somewhere else. I don't really care, because I was being paid to look for something that would turn lead into gold. Without patent laws, I might just stuff the idea in my desk, hoping to be able to work on it someday in the future. With patent laws, I file for a patent, giving my idea to the world. Some engineer, reading the patent, realizes I discovered teleportation and creates a trillion dollar industry, wiping out UPS, the Post Office, and private school carpool lines. Because of this, every parent who picks up their kids from school should support strong patent laws. Our country (and economy) relies more than ever on innovation.
     On the other hand, the sheer number of ideas out there are simply overwhelming the system. The patent office is little more than a rubber stamp on patents, even when they have no merit. You could patent a method of rubbing peanut butter on bread before putting on jelly and then sue every elementary school for infringing. If innovation becomes too expensive, nobody will innovate.
     So who am I rooting for? I haven't decided yet. In my bitter old age I am enjoying the pain and panic of Blackberry users. But that scheudenfraude aside, it will be very interesting to see how this works out.


Sylvana said...

Patents exist for a reason. Blackberry should pony up.

They claim that they shouldn't have to pay because NTP doesn't have much money? What kind of argument is that? That sounds like the typical rich bastard assuming that anyone that doesn't have money doesn't mean squat. Capitalism apparently is only supposed to favor the already rich.

To me this sounds like if some big company found gold in my backyard and then didn't want to pay me for it because I don't have enough money and I wasn't using it anyway.

Ben said...

First off, most Republicans, right-wingers, and conservatives consider the patent system to be very important to business. Without some sort of protection for your ideas, there's no incentive for innovation, and thus no growth to the economy. Ever read Milton Freedman? Your statements show a vast ignorance.

Second, hy are you assuming thgat Blackberry is run by right-wingers? Do you know this for sure, or are you just assuming that any big business must be run by a right winger? If that's your assumption, then you show even more ignorance. Are you implying that no left-wingers have enough business sense or intelligence to ever run a large and successful company?

I'm going to have to read about the case myself from other sources before I comment further, since your analysis doesn't add up, and is based on a lot of inaccurate preconceived notions.

Scott said...

Oh Ben, I can always count on your ignorant posts to provide some comic relief. I never said RIM was run by Republicans. In fact, I never mentioned Republicans. What I did say was that Right-winger were on both sides, and were obviously very conflicted since their pro-business-at-any-cost morals break down in a business vs business case like this.
But keep posting. (I'd say keep reading, but you obviously haven't read a single thing I've written)

Ben said...

You're right, I skipped a paragraph in your rant because it showed so much ignorance that it wasn't worth reading.

Jody said...

My advisor was an expert witness in the original case.

His view (and I concur, but it sounds cooler if I'm referencing an expert witness from the original trial) was Campana's patents were crap, basically patenting the concept of delivering email via wireless networks. He viewed the patents as slightly worse than Amazon receiving a patent for "one-click" check-out.

At least a partial validation of this point of view is provided by the subsequent reexamination of NTN's patents:

Despite NTP's blockbuster trial win and lucrative settlement, its patents no longer look quite as impregnable as they did a few months ago. All eight of the patents covering Campana's wireless e-mail technology are being re-examined by the PTO. A review of seven of the patents was ordered in 2003 at the patent office director's initiative, a rare move. Re-examination of the eighth patent was undertaken at RIM's request.

At press time the patent office had denoted seven of the patents as invalid on the basis of prior art -- a ruling that NTP contests. The re-examination and subsequent appeals are likely to continue for years. (The patents expire in 2012.) "If we come out with the claims intact, which we feel very strongly that we ultimately will do," NTP's Stout says, "that will only strengthen the claims."

In light of the patents being invalidated by the patent office (those 7 of 8 correspond to 4 out of 5 at issue in the case), I'm quite surprised that the courts refused to revisit the ruling.

canis lupus said...

Not much of a Blackberry user myself. I have a WiFi IPaq but I've got my eye on the Palm LifeDrive. What a hot piece of technology. And yes, I too would loooove to watch these Blackberry addicts go into withdrawal spasms. Yes, I'm a bit twisted like that. Hope they get something cell phones. Yes, I have a cell phone, but the tons of idiotic cellphone chatter I've had to endure in the past ... great merciful crap. Makes me feel more pity than anger at those poor NSA saps that have to sit and sift through all that crap. Good luck.

Otto Man said...

Ever read Milton Freedman? Your statements show a vast ignorance.

Um, his last name is spelled "Friedman."

What was that you were saying about vast ignorance?

Anonymous said...

"Capitalism (and by extension business) is the best thing ever and we should let businesses do whatever they want."

The first part is true, but then again, I doubt Scott would acquiesce to a tannery opening up shop next door -- upwind -- from his house. (If you've never smelled a tannery .... )

Sylvana said...