It’s Not Just About the Patents, It’s About the Inventors

Missing in the recent controversy about the Apple/Microsoft consortium on the acquisition to 6,000 patents and patent applications in a bankruptcy auction of Nortel assets, is the absence of any mention of inventors. This is likely in keeping with the new paradigm that elevates first to file above first to invent. Thus, one can have the 300 page compendium patent with 25 inventors listed as Jobs et al, US Patent No. 7,479,949 that ostensibly covers the iPhone (particularly the two finger pinch) yet, it curiously is not listed either in the original complaint or the amended complaint of the Apple v. Samsung battle.

What gives?  This IP object has been given a star classification in the “info map” that is the starting point of the litigation.  To speculate, while Steve Jobs would like the honor of being considered the inventor of the iPhone, the pains of interrogation by some of the smartest suits in the business may likely push Jobs to distraction. Of course, the strategy of deposing the inventor is certainly more difficult when 25 inventors are listed. Courts often limit the number of depositions a side can take and choosing among 25 “joint” inventors is a difficult and risky task. Obviously, Jobs would be number one on the list.

The blitzkrieg by Apple in the Samsung case is further complicated by the very number of IP objects brought into the litigation obligating Samsung to come up with a fairly large number of its own in retaliation. Typically a patent fight involves only one or two patents, and even then can run into the millions of dollars to litigate.

Maybe there is a less hysterical way to view patents. Presidents of this grand country have been promising that when you are awarded a patent, take it to the bank and the bank will be honored to finance your venture. Yeah, right.

The irony of this myth was expressed in the movie, “The Tree of Life.” Starring Brad Pitt as Mr. O’Brien, the tough 1950’s dad who exemplified the Tea Party do-it-yourself modern man. Mr. O’Brien (his first name is apparently not mentioned) worked at a salaried job, but through his own efforts to better himself, obtained multiple patents that led to
a failed, around the world attempt to exploit the inventions.

The reality is that there is not yet a comfortable way to value a patent.  Once issued, it is a wasting asset.  It lasts twenty years from the filing date.  Unlike a house where concrete data such as size, age, location, market trends give some real information about the value of real property (not that banks cared about such data in no-equity, inflated market value valuations) patents are incorporeal assets (having no corpus) and thus difficult to evaluate.  Being difficult to value does not mean impossible.

Therefore, we need a means of placing a monetary value on an issued patent.  If there are approximately 100,000 patents issued each year, there can be no more than 2 million existing patents that have not expired.  Given the new “maintenance fee” of keeping issued patents alive, there is probably no more than 1 million patents that are enforceable.  Given that inventors in a field typically hold multiple patents, there are probably only 500,000 or so inventors that have skin in the game.  Weeding out the bogus patents leaves probably about 100,000 patents worth more than the money paid to obtain them.  Why for a tech industry is this such a hard number to deal with?

Ironically, the tree of life is a traditional node and link mechanism to relate information.  It is at the core of this author’s system to organize information and should be done automatically or at least collectively by consensus.  Keys to this kingdom will be forthcoming.

The information organized can be patents in a litigation or simply a patent and its related art.  When a patent portfolio is valued at $750,000 per patent or application, then I think it is time to start appraising the patents issued so a disgruntled player like Google can have the opportunity of amassing a credible portfolio of its own.  It is not just about patent trolls.  It’s about rewarding inventors.


About sfreptile

SFreptile is a relatively transparent pseudonym for an overly educated and cynical inventor.
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