Patents are now the corporate weapon of choice for both shielding commercial interests and vanquishing upstart rivals.
Google has accused Microsoft and Apple of trying to undermine Android by buying up technology patents to drive up the cost of Android-powered devices. The licence fees charged for the use of the patents could arguably amount to an extra tax on companies and choke them out of the market. Following the blog post comment, Microsoft retaliated by stating that Google had been invited to bid with it on key patents but turned them down.
Apple and Samsung are suing each other in courts around the world over the rights to tablet technology. The patent dispute has caused Samsung to cancel the launch of its Galaxy tablet in Australia.
Rovio, the makers of Angry Birds (which has just surpassed 300 million downloads), is being sued by patent licensing company, Lodsys. Licensing companies, essentially acting as patent banks, are being criticised for protectionist patent purchasing which is stifling innovation and has the potential to distort the technology market if anti-competitive licence fees are demanded. Reports also abound of aggressive intimidation tactics where they sense a whiff of infringement.
Speculative spending on patents allows companies to sit back and gauge the value of technology; before swooping to reap licence fees or issue proceedings where it proves profitable.
In the world of technology, patents can make or break a company. And, somewhat predictably, it is the creative spirit of an entrepreneurial startup that ends up broken.