Talking tech since 2003

The newest trend in tech? Cross-licensing patent agreements, it seems, as Google and Cisco have announced such a deal, hot on the heels of last week’s news of similar agreements between Google and Samsung, and Twitter and IBM.

Cisco published a press release today announcing the agreement that was apparently inked specifically to combat “unnecessary patent litigation.” In other words, the two companies are looking to stop patent trolls in their tracks. So, how is that going to work?

In essence, patent trolls get their power from buying up older patents, then finding any and all possible infringing entities and threatening them with litigation unless they pay crazy-high licensing fees. Cisco and Google’s agreement, by contrasts, means that neither company will sell any of their patent assets to “patent assertion entities”—which is fancy-talk for the much more nefarious sounding “patent trolls.”

Allen Lo, Deputy General Counsel for Patents at Google, offered a statement in the press release focusing on the positive effect the agreement will generate:

“Our agreement with Cisco will reduce the potential for litigation, letting us focus instead on building great new products. We’re pleased to enter into this cross-license, and we welcome discussions with any company interested in a similar arrangement.”

The press release also points out that the two companies are members of the Coalition for Patent Fairness, a group of companies looking to put a stop to the innovation-killing practice of patent trolling. That these two huge companies have reached an agreement to give each other broader access to their patents means that more interesting and innovative products and services are likely to come down the pike.

Of course, it’s important to note that companies like Google and Cisco can afford to enter into cross-licensing patent agreements. The reason patent trolls are able to buy up patent assets comes from the fact that tons of small firms and patent-holders need to offload assets they don’t use. The fact that “patent assertion entities” exist at all means there are trained professionals who specifically seek out such patent-holders and offer them tantalizing amounts of cash, which they intend to extort from the people they plan on threatening with litigation later. Neither Google nor Cisco are in the position of needing to sell off patent assets to balance their ledgers.

My hope is that the agreement between Google and Cisco actually offer an observable and positive change in the ongoing fight against patent trolls. In the meantime, we’re still waiting to hear whether or not Samsung and Apple can come to an agreement that would end their ongoing courtroom patent battles.

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