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Apple and Google Weigh in on Patents

Apple and Google Weigh in on Patents

by , 2:30 PM EDT, August 2nd, 2007

Google's patent chief thinks the system is in crisis. Apple's patent chief didn't quite go that far, according to Colette Vogele of the Stanford Law School on Wednesday.

Speaking at the annual Stanford Summit in the Bay Area, Michelle Lee, Google's associate patent counsel told the attendees that the U.S. patent system is "in crisis", "over burdend" and that the "quality of patents coming out is low."

In addition, she lamented the "patent trolls," companies that develop a portfolio of patents and use it as a money making weapon. She referred to the US$612M that was extracted from Research in Motion in May.

However, Apple's chief patent counsel, Chip Lutton, contradicted Ms. Lee, and doesn't think the patent system is broken. In fact, "it's the best system in the world," he said. Mr. Lutton said that the key is fixing the patent system is to focus on the narrower, valuable patents. Fixing those will solve most of the problems, he claimed. He also said that the key to fixing the problem lies in the courts.

David Kappos, V.P. and assistant counsel for IP at IBM generally agreed but pointed out that it's a matter of perspective. Pharma companies that own patents in the U.S. like the system, however, IT managers view the system as having problems.

Apple lost a major lawsuit to Microsoft related to the graphical user interface copyrights in the 1990s. Like most companies including IBM, Apple has been forced to turn to the patent system to protect its IP. Now that the patent system is serving the industry in many respects, it's unlikely many companies will want to abandon it. That's likely why Mr. Lutton would like to see a better handling of patent trolling by the courts.


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