We'll be honest. Until very recently, the debate over patents seemed on-the-surface pretty complex, fairly industry-specific and kind of dry. Once you dig into it and figure out why companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are spending billions on obscure software patents, it gets a pretty interesting. But when you add a scathing blog post, a Twitter slap-fight and an army of tech bloggers wide-eyed with glee, the Silicon Valley patent war is downright enthralling.
Wednesday afternoon, Google chief legal officer David Drummond decided to write a blog post about patents. Without mention of his company's recent purchase of over 1,000 IBM patents, the post goes into deep, scathing detail about how "a hostile, organized campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents" is strangling innovation. "Patents were meant to encourage innovation, but lately they are being used as a weapon to stop it," writes Drummond:
This anti-competitive strategy is also escalating the cost of patents way beyond what they’re really worth. Microsoft and Apple’s winning $4.5 billion for Nortel’s patent portfolio was nearly five times larger than the pre-auction estimate of $1 billion. Fortunately, the law frowns on the accumulation of dubious patents for anti-competitive means--which means these deals are likely to draw regulatory scrutiny, and this patent bubble will pop.
Well, Drummond's boisterous protest did not fall on deaf ears at Microsoft. Wednesday evening, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith swatted back on Twitter, "Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no."