Rockstar vs. Google and Samsung: The patent war goes to 11

Backed by Apple and Microsoft, Rockstar Consortium is latest patent troll on the block, with sights set on Android universe

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Big blue bird of unhappiness

Meanwhile, apparently trying to cash in on Twitter's impending initial offering, IBM has notified the microblogging service that it has allegedly violated three of Big Blue's patents. According to Twitter's recent S-1 filing with the SEC, IBM is laying claim to three technologies used by Twitter:

The three patents specifically identified by IBM in the letter were U.S. Patent No. 6,957,224: Efficient retrieval of uniform resource locators, U.S. Patent No. 7,072,849: Method for presenting advertising in an interactive service and U.S. Patent No. 7,099,862: Programmatic discovery of common contacts.

At least IBM isn't claiming to have patented a method for communicating in up to 140 characters at a time or the hashtag or Ashton Kutcher -- yet. In IBM's defense, it isn't necessarily threatening to sue Twitter. It would probably settle quite happily for a slice of the IPO pie. But can somebody tell me how this differs from a payments racket? Nice little blogging service you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

Die patent trolls, die

Last week, I was talking with an intellectual property attorney from Los Angeles who told me the law surrounding software patents is in such tumult at the moment that he has no idea what to tell his clients when they ask for advice. They'd do just as well consulting a Oujia board.

He also admitted that as an IP attorney his job to was ensure his clients were granted as broad a patent as possible, to ensure the widest protection against infringement. This is why software process patents almost always suck; they describe an idea in the broadest possible sense, without doing the much harder work of actually making something. It's inspiration without perspiration. And because current patent law gives priority to whomever files first, not whomever came up with the idea first, that tilts the field heavily to deep-pocketed corporations.

While it seems like such patent trollery is little more than a battle between billionaire companies with more lawyers and money than is healthy, it can have serious repercussions for you and me. Back in 2006, RIM was on the verge of having its BlackBerry phone service shut down by NTP (better known in troll circles as No Technology Products) until it paid a ransom of more than $600 million -- nice nonwork if you can get it.

While that doesn't seem likely here, it adds a level of uncertainty that harms consumers. Should you buy that fancy new handset if there's the possibility it will be taken off the market at a later date or banned from import or have some of its key features gutted? It's the old Fear Uncertainty and Doubt strategy couched as a patent battle. If you can't beat 'em, sue 'em.

It's also clear somebody has to pay for that $4.5 billion investment in process patents, as well as any settlements that arise from their exercise. It isn't going to be the CEOs of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, or any other parties involved in these suits. It's going to be you and me.

Should patent trolls be banished? Weigh in below or email me:

This article, "Rockstar vs. Google and Samsung: The patent war goes to 11," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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