Written by Brandon Shalton
August 18, 2003 3:30pm

Convergence – An unequal playing field

As you have seen from TV ads from Sony, Gateway, and HP, the latest trend in computing is about hooking your Computer to the TV, converging the internet/computer world with Television Coupled with broadband service, the lines begin to blur as to what is “TV” and what is “Computer”. Tack on digital cable and HDTV, and things become very blurred.

Since we are reaching the point of total Convergence between the TV and the Computer, we can take a look back at the two paths to see where we have been.

The growth of the Internet (from its original inception through ARPA) and the technologies involved in it were created mainly by colleges and universities (as well as government agencies). Academia was not focused on patenting ideas, but rather the sharing of ideas. Tim Berners-Lee could have patented the concept of the World Wide Web back around 1991, but he chose to release the concepts to the world to allow people to expand this communication medium. So much of what we see today as the World Wide Web and the technologies involved, are all based on the pioneering work of many people before.

A great summary timeline of the Internet can be found here.

Working in a similar timeframe as the development of the Internet is the development of the TV industry. Satellites helped to bridge distances beyond what airwave transmission could offer, or the use of a direct phone line connections to transmit video.

Many companies were innovating in this area and patenting their ideas because in this space, owning the patents to an innovative idea could lead to significant revenue potential. For academia, sharing of knowledge would lead to significant expansion of technological advances.

Patents like Acacia’s, were based in the TV side of development, where their “forward thinking” ideas looked for technology to advance itself, from Sci-Fi To Reality, that could enable their ideas.

Technology did advance itself, and as it did, the two worlds of Computers and TV started to converge. With today’s technology, the lines have become blurred between these two worlds.

Patents that were filed in the “TV World” are now extending themselves to this other world, claiming that the patents are still valid. The arguments are based on the idea that technology wasn’t available back then to do what the patents described, but today, those technologies are available, and therefore, the patents are valid.

The challenge faced by Computer companies, that are being sued by these “TV world” patents is to prove that the ideas existed prior to their patents (ie. Prior art).

With the vast amount of history and technological evolution that was done on the “Computer” side, there exists a tremendous amount of examples of how the “Computer” side developed the technologies that the “TV” side was dreaming about.

Now we come full circle to how this article started out. There is an uneven playing field where the “TV” side has patents on the books that describe technology and processes that existed in the “Computer” side. While the “Computer” side doesn’t have the early patents, it has the early innovations that should help to invalidate broad patent claims.

Imagine if Arthur C. Clarke patented the concept of satellites as he wrote in the Wireless World magazine in 1945 (view) or if Tim Berners-Lee patented the concept of the World Wide Web. Would we have come to this point of Convergence?

copyright 2003, FightThePatent.com