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Patent trolls? Or engines of innovation - Nathan Myhrvold and the patent wars

Saying that US patent system is mess is a bit of an understatement.

NPR's Planet Money and This American Life did a great show on this over the weekend on the problems with Patents. Among other startling facts, up to 30 percent of all patents are granted on things that have already been invented. Companies like Nathan Myhvold's Intellectual Ventures are buying up thousands of patents for the sole purpose of licensing them - or suing folks who are using technology that might infringe on them.

And companies like Apple are spending billions buying up patents from other defunct tech companies like Nortel - apparently for the sole purpose of suing their competition.

This week Oracle may get to depose Larry Page for two hours in its suit alleging Android infringed on patents Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems - the creators of Java. It's like a patent world war out here. Google thought about licensing those technologies just a few weeks before Oracle filed suit.

The judge in this case is clearly pressing the two parties to settle -calling both unreasonable.

Suddenly patents are one of the hottest commodities in the tech world. Buying Nortel's patents was the one of the biggest acquisitions in Apple's history.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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