A group consisting of Google, Dell, Facebook, Homeaway, Intuit, Rackspace, Red Hat and Zynga have filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals suggesting that courts stop honoring and upholding patents with purposely vague wording. 

The brief covers all the legal angles, but the layman's version is that phrases like "on a mobile device" or "over the Internet" are just too broad and meaningless. These types of patents should not be granted, and existing patents using such broad terms should not be upheld. Direct from the brief:

 Many computer-related patent claims just describe an abstract idea at a high level of generality and say to perform it on a computer or over the Internet. Such barebones claims grant exclusive rights over the abstract idea itself, with no limit on how the idea is implemented. Granting patent protection for such claims would impair, not promote, innovation by conferring exclusive rights on those who have not meaningfully innovated, and thereby penalizing those that do later innovate by blocking or taxing their applications of the abstract idea.

Notably absent from the group putting this forward are Microsoft and Apple, companies that have recently tried to enforce overly-broad patents against Android vendors with mixed success. Both companies have also had their share of run-ins with questionable patents, so their participation is something I would have thought was likely. 

Nobody knows how effective this will be, but it's great to see it happening. If more companies are vocal about the situation, the government will have to respond in some manner. Anything to get rid of the status quo is a move forward in my book.

Source: All Things D


Reader comments

Google and others petition courts to stop upholding vague patents


I blame the patent office for giving obvious patents out. If Apple applied for a breathing air patent, the patent office would probably give it to them and Apple would have the audacity to sue humankind for breathing.

^^ +1 THIS

It really should NOT be the job of the courts to try and determine what is or is not a stupid, vague, or invalid patent. That should be the job of the patent office.

Our legal system is clogged enough without it being inundated with this stuff. I personally think that almost all "software" or "look and feel" type patents should just be swept away as unpatentable.

You're right it shouldn't, but that's where we're at. We can't go back and change it, so courts are the only option left.

I would use a different description: Rather than referring to the vagueness of the patents I think the rule should be that you can patent processes, procedures, and actual hardware. You should not be able to patent a concept, especially without specifying how the concept is worked out in processes, procedures, and actual hardware.
In other words, backward engineering would be entirely legal and reasonable, but wholesale copying would not.
This protects true intellectual property without preventing other parties from producing their own similar products from their own work.

This is most certainly a move in the right direction. The vague wording of these patents only (in the words of the brief) serve to prevent innovation. I fear that this will not be enough however in the end to get anything done unless more companies get involved or if a big enough company sticks their neck out to counter their claim. Some type of debate would surely help the cause I think.

This is great. I hope that, given the companies involved, the government will pay attention. This absurdity with patents needs to end. I am curious, though, what happens if one of these existing patents gets revoked due to this petition? If a company paid, say crApple, for violation of said patent. Can that company get their money back from crApple?

I'm with Google on this one. Patents like "Rectangular in shape with rounded corners on a mobile device" should NOT be granted and/or thrown out. This shouldn't mean that a manufacturer can copy exact measuments of another device and get a way with it. But if a device is similar but different in nature should be fair game..I.E. taller, wider, etc.

I'm surprised crApple hasn't patented the way someone views a mobile device...and if they did...I'm sure the USPTO would somehow grant it to them. Apple needs to be punched in the nose repeatedly then kicked in the teeth to show them that they are not god.

Things like shape/color/style/etc should be handled with copyrights or trademarks. NOT PATENTS.

It's the weekend. All the writers work hard, and I'm just sitting here watching the ice fall outside so I just did it instead of asking someone else who might be out having fun.

Don't worry, I didn't enjoy it :P

Do not forget, the lawsuit game started after Jobs died. Tim Cook, I think his name is, should have to pay from his own pocket for starting the tech war.

The lawsuit game didn't start After Jobs died it started way before.

"I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this." - Steve Jobs

"I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product"

It's been satisfying to see how this has played out for Apple. Even if their absurd 1 billion judgement stands, it hasn't (and won't) make a single bit of difference in Android's advance. iOS is shockingly unchanged from it's inception while Android has matured immensely with each new version, gobbling up market share in the process.

I love when arrogant pricks get what they deserve.

Jobs’ own words again: “We have been ‘ShameLESS’ about stealing great ideas”, I wonder what he meant about it?

Wow... This might be the biggest load of Jobs apologist BS I have ever read. This is the complete opposite of the truth. Many folks were hoping that the death of Jobs, who was the driver of this lawsuit insanity, might lead to an end to the lawsuit insanity. Sadly this did not happen.

I wonder how they'll feel if they get their way and all of those 'purposely vague' patents Google paid $12 billion for (for Motorola) are severely limited?

Seems like a cut off your nose to spite your face situation.

Having virtually no knowledge of the patents in question, aren't they mostly "standards essential" patents and therefore NOT "purposefully vague"? Also, weren't most of them filed, and presumably granted, long before this whole patent war BS?

+9000 I do believe that the majority of Motorola's patents are "standards essential." Those wouldn't be affected by any reversal. They are required to be licensed under FRAND terms anyways. I could be wrong, though.

I do think that Google did not acquire those patents so they can sue others over them. Google wants to protect itself by owning those patents so others don't use them to sue Google. So, if those patents become invalid, Google won't feel bad. What they want is to be able to out their products and let others do the same with their own.

Of course Apple isn't one of the presenters. Squashing competition using vaguely worded patents is their bread and butter these days.

How about juries be told that they can do "jury nullification" of stupid laws/patents.
The USPTO isn't technical enough to stop granting stupid patents. The jury should be smart enough to know that some patents are vague and should be thrown out, unless the jury foreman happens to tell them that all stupid patents should be upheld by all stupid juries :-P

You have yet to see an American Jury then.... Only people on them are the ones that weren't bright enough to get out of it.

Makes you wonder if this is going to be a step forward, or just a reason to hire a hundred more lawyers to get more succinct on how they present their cases.

Step in the right direction though eh. This mess will eventually evolve itself out.