30 June 2006

Many of the fears people have with Microsoft is that they will start a patent land grab in the robotics arena, grabbing things that are completely obvious or so fundamental that it would completely kill innovation.

This is not completely unfounded, but recent news shows that the Redmond giant is clearly thinking things through here, and has realised exactly how bad these things could go. In a recent case, a company is trying to file suit against another over patent infringement on what is essentially an accelerator pedal. MS and also Cisco have come out in defence of the other company, in protest to the silliness of the obvious patent.

Maybe the robotics discipline is safer than previously thought even with the entry of MS. The only question is, were the things that are now obvious, obvious to engineers in the same field 5 or 10 years ago? When things are moving so quickly due to innovation and research, that may be very, very hard to gauge.

Microsoft and Cisco appear to be complaining that the law on establishing patents is far too lenient, and that more checks and balances on the appropriateness of a patent need to be considered. Maybe introducing a requirement of having a hearing with an independent expert who is technically qualified and experienced in the field to judge how obvious or unique the concept is might be a big step forwards in guaranteeing some kind of public benefit and preventing rubbish patents being filed en mass.

Combine this on regular patents with an alternate option of rapid short patents as described here - and the system may suddenly improve the innovation and dynamics of the technology market significantly.

All of this is all playing out in the US, so who knows how it will affect UK and EU patent law.

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