Technology patent wars challenge U.S. antitrust laws

The manufacturers of constantly changing technology products are the center of a tug-of-war between U.S. patent laws and monopoly-busting antitrust laws. Patent infringement suits among technology companies crisscross courtrooms regularly. Companies fight to protect patents and limit or ban the use of secured intellectual property in products made by market rivals.

Antitrust and intellectual property laws on the books protect both sides, but experts are seeing more legal decisions and collisions than ever before over who owns and who can use technology patents.

Meanwhile, high-profile companies have joined forces and pooled resources to secure patent rights that exclude competitors. When Oracle, Microsoft and Apple got together to purchase patents from Novell, presumably in an effort to thwart Google’s Android smartphone software, the U.S. Justice Department stepped in to force the trio to issue reasonably priced licensing agreements.

Google is also being scrutinized by federal officials after the $12.5 billion purchase of cellphone manufacturer Motorola Mobility. The Justice Department is eyeing how Google manages the patents it purchased and how it treats competitors who use them, hoping to make sure the Internet giant doesn’t break any antitrust laws.

Federal regulators may be at a loss as how to change intellectual property laws to satisfy the technology companies. Making patents accessible to more companies could defeat the purpose of keeping them exclusive, while tightening patent ownership might feed the creation of monopolies and stifle the spirit of innovation. One thing is for sure, upcoming cases could have a significant impact on the future of intellectual property laws.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “When Patent, Antitrust Worlds Collide,” Thomas Catan, Nov. 14, 2011