Facebook and Twitter Have So Far Managed to Avoid Becoming Casualties in Patent Wars

Facebook and Twitter Have So Far Managed to Avoid Becoming Casualties in Patent Wars

9/20/2011

 

A number of patent skirmishes have been witnessed by Paul Maritz, the chief executive of VMWare. He has spent 14 years under Microsoft, a large part of which was during the time when the company was rapidly extending its market dominance and threatening other technology powerhouses.

Maritz remembers visiting Digital Equipment Corp, Hewlet-Packard and other tech giants to pay obeisance, trying to strike licensing deals that would give Microsoft access to vital intellectual property, which kept the software behemoth from prolonged legal battles. He said, “We had to do that. We were the new kids on the block.”

Similar dynamics are observed by Maritz in the tech industry today. The rising stars of Silicon Valley, such as Facebook, Twitter, Zynga and LinkedIn, have so far avoided becoming the casualties in ongoing patent wars, which have focused on the realm of mobile devices. However, as Maritz puts it, “When the continents shift and new players come into a space, it results in an unstable situation.”

According to technology executives and legal experts, a lot more patent confrontations are to be expected. Older tech companies like IBM, Microsoft and Oracle maintain and control rich patent portfolios which cover vital technologies that are being used by the Web set, particularly file management and database applications.

Timothy D. Casey, the co-founder of the SilverSky Group and a former patent lawyer at Apple, said, “The new-generation companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn will eventually run afoul of the established companies. It’s a familiar pattern in the technology industry.”

Part of the risk for new generation Web companies is brought about by their weak patent portfolios. According to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filings, a total of only 12 patents are owned by Facebook, while Zynga, LinkedIn and Twitter range between zero and two each.

WRITTEN BY:

blakeh@wellsdrew.com