On the 21st August 2012 Pablo Chavez, Google’s public policy director, released a statement saying that software patents, rather than promoting innovation and creativity, are actually stifling it. He further commented that these measures have the effect of harming consumers who have less varied products to choose from on the market. This was after Motorola Mobility, one of Google’s many subsidiaries, sued Apple, demanding an import ban on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Chavez was quoted as saying the following at a Technology Policy Institute conference in Mountain View, California:
“We think that these patent wars are not helpful to consumers… They’re not helpful to the marketplace. They’re not helpful to innovation.”
Although many in the legal sphere in the United States have staunchly defended the existence of software patents, there is a growing discontent in many sectors of the technology industry regarding this system. Patents are tremendously powerful tools under intellectual property law. They grant a virtual monopoly over whatever they protect, preventing not only unlicensed use, but going so far as to bar importation and putting on the local market of products falling under the patent by anybody other than the patent holder in that territory.
Motorola Mobility’s actions against Apple have raised eyebrows in regard to the integrity of Chavez’s statement. However, since he has no involvement in Motorola Mobility’s patent strategy, this is not necessarily an issue. Chavez’s attitude has also been considered controversial in that the patent holders in these matters has normally shown themselves to relish their role in the issue. The late Steve Jobs was once quoted as promising to go “thermonuclear” on Android, while Microsoft has shown a long track record of boasting its successes in forcing smartphone vendors to pay patent licence fees.
Regardless of the actions of any one company, the fact remains that software patents create a restrictive environment for start-up developers. Worse still, the fact that such developers live in constant fear of lawsuits for often exorbitant amounts has the effect of dissuading both developers and investors from expanding this industry beyond the existing players. The European Union has not yet set any universal patent regime because of disagreement over whether software should be afforded patent protection. Evidently, the stalemate has worked in the EU’s favour by making it a more liberal environment for budding developers.
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