Google wants to avoid “patent wars” but realistically speaking, what else can one call the massive “race to acquire patents“?
While pondering that question, please consider Google catches up in technology patent wars
Google was awarded nearly 2,000 patents in the US last year, almost double the number of all previous years combined, catapulting it into the top ranks of technology companies building stockpiles of legally-protected innovations.
The rapid growth, revealed by an analysis of patent office filings, is the latest sign of the internet search company’s attempt to buttress a weak position in the smartphone industry’s patent wars. It also highlights a race to stake out promising new technology markets, as fields such as “wearable” computing become the next frontiers for growth.
“Our hope is to avoid a war,” said Allen Lo, Google’s chief patent lawyer. “Hopefully we can learn from the smartphone litigation.”
Google ranked only number 21 based on issued patents in 2012 and was not even in the top 50 in 2011, according to an annual ranking compiled by IFI Claims, a patent research company.
The jump partly reflects new products such as the Google Glass “smart” glasses and its development of driverless cars, said Mr Lo. “We’re right at the cutting edge of newer areas we want to protect,” he said.
Google was assigned 1,920 patents in 2013, according to a review of the US Patent and Trademark Office database. Based on IFI analysis of the previous year’s data, it is likely to finish in the top 10, ahead of companies such as General Electric and LG Electronics.
The patent race among industry leaders has threatened to overwhelm smaller technology companies, forcing them to mount their own acquisition campaigns to defend themselves.
Patent experts warn that the quality of a technology company’s patents, rather than volume, is the most important issue affecting its legal defences. Apple has won the upper hand in its US legal battles against Samsung despite having a far smaller patent portfolio.
However, the sheer quantity of patent holdings also helps deter attack and has led to an intellectual property arms race.
Decades Long Litigation
You cannot avoid a war you are in.
Realistically, the hope is not to avoid a patent war, but rather an expensive litigation war.
In the “finally shake hands department“, a Decades-Old Rambus Litigation Against Micron For RDRAM Tech Reaches Settlement this past December.
Similarly, C/Net reports Rambus bags last major litigation target Micron.
Micron Technology has finally settled with Rambus on DRAM memory patents, agreeing to pay up to $280 million over a period of seven years.
According to the agreement announced Tuesday, Micron can use any Rambus patent for the manufacture of “specified integrated circuit products.”
The agreement requires quarterly royalty payments to Rambus over the next seven years capped at $10 million per quarter or $280 million during the initial term, the two companies said in a statement.
“This was our last major outstanding litigation,” Rambus CEO Ron Black said in a conference call Tuesday. The two companies have been sparring for more than a decade.
As part of the settlement, Micron and Rambus have settled all outstanding patent and antitrust claims. The agreement also covers Japan-based Elpida, which Micron acquired earlier this year.
Rambus has settled with, or aggressively sued, every major player in the memory chip industry over the last 14 years.
Rambus has a long and convoluted history of lawsuits and legal action. In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission dropped its antitrust case against the company after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an FTC appeal. This followed an appeals court decision that threw out the FTC’s findings that Rambus intentionally withheld its patent plans from a standards body, which later sanctioned certain Rambus technology that is found in many PCs and servers around the world.
As DRAM standards evolved, Rambus has alleged that more and more patented Rambus inventions were being utilized and shipping in products.
The genesis of many of the legal proceedings was a Rambus claim that SDRAM and subsequent DDR memory types infringed Rambus patented inventions.
Return to the Beginning Fistfight
I have lost count of the huge number of verdicts that have been won, lost, and reversed between Rambus and other companies over computer memory patents.
Going back to the beginning, I recall a near fistfight incident between Rambus and Micron executives. My memory was correct.
A quick search for “Rambus Micron CEO Fistfight” located this September 2000 article: Micron, Rambus chiefs nearly came to blows.
Earlier this week we reported on first Micron, then Hyundai taking legal action against Rambus, so upping the ante on the continuing dispute over patents on double data rate (DDR) and synchronous DRAM memory.
Those legal actions have churned up heady debates on boards such as Silicon Investor and Raging Bull, no doubt prompted by people worried more about whether they’re out of pocket than the technology per se.
And the debate has also churned up ancient (March 99) memories of a party held at Dan Niles’ San Francisco home, where, according to The Street, Rambus CFO Gary Harmon and Micron CEO Steve Appleton nearly got into a fist fight over support for the RIMMs.
One telling statement in the piece on The Street is well worth re-airing. Harmon is quoted as saying that by March 2000, Micron would be giving Rambus its whole-hearted support.
Instead, Micron and Hyundai are taking Rambus to court, Intel has conceded that DDR is important for its Pentium 4, while stalinised benchmarks seem to suggest that those long on Rambus may well have been right.
This story has got everything, it seems, apart from sex. Unless, that is, you know differently, and want to slip us the details for our forthcoming book, tentatively called The Rambus Affair™
That is precisely the kind of war that Google hopes to avoid. And to avoid litigation fistfight wars, it instead engages in a more civil war of patent acquisition.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock