IAM, issue 54-observations

by Andrew Watson on 29 June 2012

Reading IAM issue 54, two quick observations.

Twitter’s patent policy is the subject of the Insights section. It’s not clear who wrote this but it may just miss one key point, which is why Twitter has put its Innovator’s Patent Agreement in place. To summarise, Twitter’s VP of Engineering Adam Messinger has implemented an agreement and policy that puts some control of how a patent is used in the hands of the inventors. IAM, correctly, argues that this may place restrictions on Twitter’s abilities to use the patents in question for offensive purposes or to raise finance by selling the patents, to trolls (I like the word troll, it is sufficiently descriptive for me of all models that create wealth from licensing patents, however implemented, NPEs is too kind, and as the IP Hall of Fame now has its first troll….stop it Andrew), or for any other purpose other than defensive.

Why are these restrictions important? Well stop and pause for just ten seconds and imagine that you are a software engineer. Don’t read on until you imagine this for at least 10 seconds.

So Mr Software Engineer. You read Slashdot (notorious patent haters) and other technical journals and literature. You may have worked at organisations like Gemstar and IBM where pots of wealth were and are being created using your inventions. What do you feel about patent licensing as a business model? How do you feel about your precious inventions, the emotional equivalent of your children so they say, being used by lawyers to force another company to defend against your invention. You may, or may not, philosophically, believe in software patents. But that is not the core point. Other people, probably lawyers, are taking your babies and forcing others to pay money to make use of them. Emotionally that’s hard to imagine, and what’s worse is that they don’t even ask your permission to do so or pay you a fair reward for their privilege.

If those hard-bitten beliefs are to be reversed and the opposite behaviours encouraged, Twitter like IPAs will be part of the solution. Does IAM think that Mr Messinger will have implemented this blind without asking engineers for their opinions and views?

I also liked the “Seen & Heard” section in general and this quote from Ron Zink of Microsoft Europe in particular.

“Negative fringe stories about multi-billion dollar patent wars and anti-counterfeiting treaties are tainting the image of IP”.

Too right. Though I think, ending the week on the same theme as which we started it, that removing the words from “and through to treaties” and replacing the word “IP” with “patents” would be more accurate.

Time to rest, a hard week.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick White 06.29.12 at 10:28 am

Please, please, please, please do not pander to the political ideology around Trolls and NPEs. I almost hate Trolls with a passion and I love NPEs and NPE activity with equal passion. IP licensing and cross-fertilization of IP makes the world go round. The fact is that virtually every single operating company in the world seeks access to and licences in other peoples IP. Should we take their life’s breath away? Should we undermine their basic trust and belief in the IP model by allowing those who steal IP to get away with it? What you hate is US assert licensing.

I think the Twitter approach is interesting and really fits well with the “software engineer” mindset and space. Be interesting to see how it pans out. It’s ideologically flawed for so many reasons but just feels right. In the final analysis Mr Software Engineer if you don’t let me your employer sell your first born to the enemy you ain’t having any more babies. The “my inventions are my babies” analogy works really well don’t you think? I think for most what would be emotionally hard to imagine today is being without a job. They have to be absolutely sure that they get their defensive patent strategy right.

Amen to Ron Zink and Amen to your amendment.

Having said that its a bit rich coming from Microsoft. What Ron has forgotten to mention is the masses of collateral damage that has been done to fledgling software businesses (and engineers) throughout the world over the past 30 years due to Microsoft and others behaviour around IP. Microsoft v i4i is just the tip of the iceberg. The taint on IP has a long and murky history be careful about casting stones.

Joff Wild 06.29.12 at 12:06 pm

Very complacent Nick and Andrew. If you think hostility to ACTA and IP-based business models on the internet is all about patents then you are in for a rude awakening. Read the Piratenpartei manifesto, which you can access through the IAM blog. The pirates are currently scoring around 10% in German opinion polls and could well hold the balance of power after the country’s elections. They probably hate copyright most of all and it’s this, rather than anything they say about patents, which gets them their support.

Nick White 06.29.12 at 1:14 pm

Joff, Very true never thought it was just patents for one minute! As I keep saying to companies patents are not the only IP fruit! What this really highlights is that the anti-IP movement has a very strong voice (not just in Germany) when those listening really don’t understand the issues. Having said that copyright does need addressing. Their primary focus though is freedom of information and ergo the swipe at copyright or any IP right (generic patents) that prevent freedom of information.

I think the complacency in the IP world is that many who should engage are not engaging and this is largely unnoticed (but see my link about Europe on another thread). Zink is right about taint on IP he is just years too late in his observations and missed the tipping point.

Andrew Watson 06.29.12 at 3:09 pm

For the record I am not anti-patent, far far from it. I just think we get lost in thinking that patents and patents alone are IP. And they are not. We have done over 300 IP strategy projects and have not come across one where patents were more important than the human capital and know how. They are just not that important though they are very much in vogue.

Nick White 06.29.12 at 3:22 pm

Hear! Hear! Keep looking you won’t find one. :-) Patents and the underlying technology don’t come out of thin air. That for me is one of the problems with the thinking around “IP as an asset class”.

Andrew Watson 06.29.12 at 3:54 pm

Oh dear, what a terrible end to the week. Nick and I in agreement. And they said it would never happen.

Nick White 06.29.12 at 6:51 pm


Nick White 06.29.12 at 7:03 pm

Andrew, Let me leave you with a thought as to why human capital and know how is coming back to the fore.

Patent term is 20 years. You’re lucky if you see a granted patent in say 4-5 years, with all the backlogs.

The pace at which technology is being developed and made redundant across all sectors is increasing. Capability and expertise is increasingly becoming redundant within 5 to 10 years. So why bother patenting? The 20 year patent term was developed for a much more leisurely time when the pace of change was slower.

Have a great weekend with the family. I imagine like me you will be giving the football a miss :-)

Andrew Watson 06.30.12 at 7:27 am

Espana in the final. Of course not. The family is only just recovering from Rafa crashing out at Wimbledon but I like my adopted country a little more than the one of my birth. At least it has retained it’s unique culture.

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