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