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Reporters' Roundtable: The patent mess (podcast)

We're digging into the patent quagmire this week, with CNET's Molly Wood and special guest Nilay Patel of Engadget. Are patents stifling innovation or helping it?

This week our topic is: the patent mess. Are patents stifling innovation or helping it? Or put another way, do patents just take money out of the technology world and funnel it to lawyers, or is there a benefit to the system?

There's been a lot of patent news lately. In a typical story, Apple claimed infringement by HTC, HTC counter-claimed, and Microsoft said Google's Android phones (most of which are made by HTC) may be infringing. It's a tangled mess.

Guests are Molly Wood, the co-host of Buzz Out Loud here at CNET, with me, and Nilay Patel, managing editor at the gadget blog Engadget and a former lawyer.

Now playing: Watch this: The patent mess


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Show notes and talking points

First, review. What is a patent? (Nilay)

How different from copyright and trademark and trade secret?

Cost of patent overhead?

OK, now that that's out of the way...

What's good about patents? What's not?

What's a patent troll?

Let's talk about Intellectual Ventures, a company that does nothing but monetize patents. CEO is Nathan Myhrvold, former CTO Microsoft.

Companies like Microsoft and IBM have R&D arms that churn out tons of patentable technology, much of which never makes it into products, but which does become patentable and contributes to the bottom line of the companies. Molly, do you have a problem with that?

Open Source: how does it square with patents?

Recent cases. Discuss...

  • The Flash/HTML5 firestorm that Apple has fanned has a patent angle: H.264 video-streaming technology. Nilay, can you explain?
  • Nokia v. Apple
  • i4i v. Microsoft Office
  • Apple v. HTC; HTC v. Apple
  • Microsoft v. Google (HTC)

What's wrong with protecting research findings and inventions? And profiting from them?

Nilay: "Apple doesn't license anything to anybody, but MS licenses everything to everybody."


Check out the Engadget podcast!

Next time: Roundtable moves to a new time, noon Pacific each Friday. On May 21 we'll have: The infrastructure of the 21st century and how the Internet could kill it (!), with Elinor Mills and special guest Joseph Weiss.

E-mail comments to, and get all the show notes as well as replays and downloads of the podcast on the blog. Watch my Twitter feed (@Rafe) for updates.