Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Patent Sea Change

My brother alerted me to some very interesting news that I haven't seen widely reported yet.

Guess who filed the most US patent applications in November? IBM? Microsoft? Guess again. The answer is Samsung --- and by a mile.

It was IBM 347, Microsoft 360, Samsung 523. And this isn't a one-off spike.

I'm not sure what's happening here. 6K patents per year means tens of millions of dollars in filing fees alone, so it's obviously a huge investment with some kind of strategy behind it. I don't believe Samsung has suddenly built a network of research labs to rival IBM and Microsoft. It seems likely that they've just decided to become very aggressive about patenting absolutely every idea their people can think of. Over the years a lot of people have warned about what could happen if someone tried to exploit the weaknesses of the US patent system to the maximum (and the patent industry has pushed back with "don't worry, that's not happening"). It may well be happening now.

What next? Things could be very interesting. We may see US companies ramping up their patent-farming efforts to match. But I think we will also see good old-fashioned nationalism (perhaps with a racist flavour) coming to bear on the question of patent reform. Will Americans stand for the transfer of public ideas into private monopolies when it's foreigners locking things up? But if the US government starts to backpedal, and possibly even breach its WIPO commitments, then that gives cover to other countries to implement sensibly restrictive patent laws. That would be a good result.


  1. Wouldn't it be better for these countries to work with the US to create a new global consensus? No one will want other countries to become less restrictive towards their patents - everyone stands to lose. If companies like IBM, Microsoft, and Samsung could all agree on an international basis to push modified patent laws it may be better. Or to quote the Iraq Study Group, it would be better to go about this multilaterally.

  2. You may be over-simplifying what Samsung does. Samsung actually makes a large range of products. See I am not sure there are western companies that make as many different products in what we would consider different industries.
    I am not saying you are wrong. I am just saying that Samsung may do this much research and we might not know. Their increase in patent filings might not be a big deal to them. How many of us know about research trends in Korea? Does the western business media report on it?

  3. How many of us know about research trends in Korea? any suggestion ?