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Microsoft Wants Galactic Patent

September 2, 2009

Despite a potentially crippling patent injunction against selling Word that Microsoft is battling on appeal, Microsoft, via a senior lawyer, is nevertheless calling for a global patent system “to make it easier and faster for corporations to enforce their intellectual property rights around the world”. Yep–despite the big hit they just took due to i4i’s patent, Microsoft is concerned about the “unmanageable backlogs and interminable pendency periods” of national patent systems, which have 3.5 million patents pending. You hear that right–Microsoft things more is “needed to be done to allow corporations to protect their intellectual property.” What, do they want i4i to be able to get sextuple, instead of just triple, damages? To jail Microsoft board members?

Microsoft’s lawyer repeats the tired old bunk about patents being necessary to promote innovation, yada yada — “By facing the challenges, realizing a vision, overcoming political barriers, and removing procedural obstacles we can build a global patent system that will promote innovation, enrich public knowledge, encourage competition and drive economic growth and employment.”

Two good things about this: (a) a global system would, possibly, reduce the number of patent lawyers; and (b) I was feeling sorry for Microsoft over the Word injunction, but now don’t need to anymore.

Update: Let me add that I think this has no chance of happening. The patent lawyers in countries around the world would block it. The way the system works now, you file a patent application first in your home country, and within a year or two (depending on whether you use the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) or Paris Convention procedures), you can file corresponding patent applications in other countries or regions claiming a priority date based on your first country’s filing date. But you have to pay filing fees, sometimes translation fees (which can be astronomical), local attorney fees, and local maintenance fees in each country you want the patent to issue in. Let’s say it costs $15-20k for a patent to be filed and ultimately issued in the US. Well you might want to have the patent filed also in, say, the European Union, Japan, China, Brazil, Canada, India. So now we are up to well over $100k-200k. And that is not even global. Under a global system presumably you would file once and it would be enforceable in every country in the world party to the treaty. It might be more expensive than the current $20k for a single country but far less than cost of filing in multiple countries now. So presumably under a global system, you would file a patent infringement suit in the appropriate court, and if you win, you just take the judgment to local courts in whatever countries the defendant is competing with you and have that country’s courts enforce the judgment as a mere formality.

This would make global patents easier and cheaper to get and easier and cheaper to enforce. Presumably people would want to use European or American local patent examining offices for quality purposes, so it would tend to put out of work the patent bar in “Southern” (third world) countries. You can expect a mobilized patent bar in most countries to fight this. Such proposals have been around for decades, and never go anywhere. Thank God for protectionist lawyers!

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