《经济学人》:知识产权,发明之战
日期:2011-08-26 10:59

(单词翻译:单击)

Intellectual property
知识产权

Inventive warfare
发明之战

Battles over patents are becoming fiercer and more expensive
专利之战,愈演愈烈,愈烈价更高

THIS deal is all about patents. That was the near universal view of Google’s announcement this week that it was taking over Motorola Mobility, a maker of handsets and other devices, for a colossal $12.5 billion. Indeed, the purchase will provide Google with an awful lot of patents: around 17,000 of them issued and another 7,500 pending. They should help Google in its efforts to get more smartphones and other mobile devices running on its Android operating system (see article). But it could also make the battles over patents nastier and more costly.

这笔交易归根结蒂就是谋求专利。这是多数人对谷歌本周宣布以125亿美元天价收购手机及其他电子产品制造商摩托罗拉这一消息的普遍看法。实际上,此项交易为谷歌带来数量极其庞大的专利:约1.7万项已审批,另外7500项待审批。这些专利有助于歌获得更多运行安卓操作系统的智能手机以及其他移动设备 (见 文)。但是这也会使对专利的争夺愈演愈烈,代价更高。

A scramble for patents had already begun. In December four companies, including Microsoft and Apple, paid $450m for around 880 patents and applications owned by Novell, an ailing software firm. In July those two and four others, including Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, spent $4.5 billion on 6,000 patents owned by Nortel, a bankrupt Canadian telecoms-equipment maker. Before its latest deal, Google bought 1,000 patents from IBM. Firms are also suing each other. Apple claims its technology has been copied by Samsung and Motorola in their Android phones. Oracle is suing Google for up to $6 billion, claiming that Android infringes its patents. Microsoft is suing Motorola over Android too. Nokia recently settled a similar quarrel with Apple.

专利争夺战早已打响。早在12月,包括微软及苹果在内的四间公司就支付境况不佳的Novell4.5亿美元以购买约880项专利和应用程序。今年七月,其中的两间公司及包括黑莓厂商动态研究公司在内的另外四家公司购买加拿大倒闭的电信设备厂商Nortel的6000项专利。此前,谷歌就从IBM公司购买了1000项专利。同时,各公司也在互相倾轧。苹果声称其技术已被三星及摩托罗拉在其安卓系统中盗用。甲骨文公司起诉谷歌公司,称安卓系统侵权,要求索赔60亿美元。微软公司也起诉摩托罗拉的安卓系统。诺基亚公司最近刚刚与苹果公司解决一个类似冲突。

What is going on? Some say companies are attaching more value to intellectual property. Indeed, the Google deal seems to have been priced on a cost-per-patent basis, causing the share prices of other firms with lots of patents to rise. Others, however, think the battles reflect deficiencies in the patent system forcing firms to pay vast sums to protect technologies they have developed. The answer is a bit of both.

这到底是怎么回事?有些人说这是各公司跟看重知识产权。实际上,谷歌交易似乎就是通过每项专利的成本而进行估价,这就致使拥有专利众多的公司的股价攀升。但是,也有人认为此类争夺正反映了专利认证体系的缺陷——迫使公司大笔投入保护其开发技术。答案二者兼有。

System failure
体系缺陷

Kent Walker, one of Google’s senior lawyers, grouses at being forced to spend a lot of money defending the company against frivolous lawsuits by rivals. Others counter that as computing goes mobile, it favours information-technology firms that have invested in research for years and that Google was naive—or idealistic—to broaden its IT business without having a stack of patents. There is a retort to that, too: that incumbents can use patents as barriers to entry, which is why America’s antitrust regulators are showing interest in them. In April the Department of Justice demanded changes to Novell’s patent sale to protect open-source software.

谷歌的一名高级律师肯特·沃克尔(Kent Walker)就抱怨说,公司不得不花大笔钱应对竞争对手杂七杂八的诉讼。有些人则辩解称,随着移动电话的计算机化,多年投入于研发的信息技术公司会备受宠爱,而谷歌太幼稚——或者说理想化,想在没有专利储备的情况下就扩展其IT业务。对此说法也有不同意见:监管者可利用专利作为市场准入的障碍——这就是为什么美国反垄断监管者对专利感兴趣的原因所在。四月,美司法部要求Novell公司改变出售专利,以保护开源软件。

Nowadays, innovations in IT usually rely on many small improvements involving numerous technologies, which means it is not always clear precisely which inventions a patent covers. The open secret is that everyone infringes everyone else’s patents in some way. This creates an incentive for firms to build up their patent portfolios to strengthen their position in negotiations, leading to what some liken to an arms race. The legal tussles usually end in cross-licensing deals, in which small sums of money change hands. This is considered preferable to a mutually destructive exchange of endless lawsuits.

时至今日,IT产业的创新大多依赖于众多技术的点滴改善,这就意味着通常不是很明确一项专利到底包含哪些发明。大家都不同程度侵犯彼此的专利,这已是心照不宣。这就无形中促使公司逐渐扩大专利组合,来增加谈判筹码,这就造成像是军备竞赛的结果。法律纠纷通常以交换使用专利权而告终,只有少量现金易手。人们普遍接受这要比彼此没完没了的诉讼,互相伤害好。

The patent battle has become more contentious than ever. One reason is the mobile phone has provided a new platform of computing that firms want to dominate. Also, such a backlog of applications built up at America’s patent office (now more than 1m, with a waiting time of around three years) that standards slipped. Dubious patents were granted, helped in part by court rulings that allowed patents to stand on some software and “business methods” that many thought no one could lay claim to. In Europe and Japan, where patentability standards are higher, this is less of a problem.

专利争夺战越来越有争议,前所未有。原因之一就是移动电话提供了计算新平台,而这是各公司竞相追逐的。还有,美国专利局的标准下降,此类等待注册的应用程序逐年增加(现在有超过1百万项要等待约三年时间)。有争议的专利获得通过,这部分得益于法庭允许某些软件及“商业方法”获得专利,而这些人们普遍认为没有人会申请专利。在专利标准较高的欧洲和日本,就没有此类问题。

Making things even more troublesome is that as lawsuits became particuarly lucrative some companies entered the fray to feed off them. Non-practicing entities (NPEs), which have intellectual property but no actual products, include such august bodies as the Harvard Medical School. But some NPEs are derided as “trolls” because their sole purpose seems to be to exploit the legal system by demanding licensing fees from companies, sometimes for questionable patents. Over the past 15 years, the median award to NPEs of damages for patent infringement has doubled while that for other firms has declined (see chart).

更麻烦的是诉讼特别有利可图,一些公司因此加入到混战当中,以此为业。非执业实体机构有知识产权,但是没有实际产品,哈佛医学院这类众相追捧的机构就属此列。但是有些非职业实体机构(Non-practicing Entities)因为其唯一目的就是利用法律体系,从使用公司收取专利费(有些专利颇受质疑),而被贬称为“诱饵公司”。过去15年里,裁决非职业实体机构侵权赔偿损失的平均赔偿数额增加一倍,而对其他公司的裁决减少(见图)。

Court rulings in America have begun to clip the trolls’ beards by making it harder to win injunctions and by strengthening the criteria for whether an invention is truly “non-obvious”. Microsoft has seen the number of suits filed in the famously plaintiff-friendly district court of Eastern Texas fall from 17 in 2007 to just two so far this year, says Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel. However, as big companies have improved their defences, the trolls have changed their tactics and are now going after start-ups.

美国法院裁决开始通过使“诱饵公司”更难获得禁令并就一项发明是否真的“非人所共知(non-obvious)”强化标准,来精简“诱饵公司”。在以偏向于原告而出名的德克萨斯州东部的地方法院,对微软提起的诉讼从2007年的17件降至今年的仅2件,微软法律总顾问布拉德·史密斯(Brad Smith)说。但是,随着大公司胜诉增加,“诱饵公司”也一改策略,开始追逐初创公司。

New legislation could change things. David Kappos, director of America’s patent office, says the America Invents Act could amount to “the most sweeping reforms to the US patent system in 175 years.” It is expected to be passed this autumn, Barack Obama has indicated that he will sign it, and big IT and drug companies support it. But many entrepreneurs and venture capitalists do not, arguing that it does not fix any of the system’s big problems and risks creating new ones.

新法案有望扭转乾坤。美国专利局局长大卫·卡波斯(David Kappos)说,美国发明法(the America Invent Act)有望“彻底改变美国175年历史的专利体系。”该方案预计会在今年秋季通过,巴拉克·奥巴马已表示他会签署通过该方案,而且大型IT公司和只要企业也对该法案给予支持。但是许多企业家和风险投资人却对此不屑一顾,认为这不会解决这一体系的大问题,而有制造新问题的风险。

The most contentious point is a change to determine who is the rightful inventor. Instead of being the “first to invent”, the successful applicant would be the “first to file”, the standard used worldwide. Harmonising America’s rules with those in other countries would be a step towards greater co-operation and efficiency in patent examinations globally. Big companies like the proposal because it gives them more legal certainty that someone will not appear claiming they came up with the idea first. But inventors like Steve Perlman, the founder of WebTV and other firms, argue that it forces companies to file for patents before their inventions are fully developed. That, says Mr Perlman, would lead to yet more incremental improvements rather than big innovative steps and put a toll on America’s competitiveness.

最有争议的一点就是决定谁是合法发明人产生了变化。代替首位发明,而采用“首位注册”为成功申请人这一世界通行的标准,使美国的规则与其他国家的一致,是为全球专利检验加大合作与提高效率迈出的一步。大公司喜欢这一提议,因为在法律上他们有更大的把握,有些人不会出庭宣称自己首先想出创意。但是WebTV及多家公司的创始人史蒂夫·帕尔曼(Steve Perlman)这样的投资人辩称,这会迫使公司在发明完全开发出之前就注册专利。帕尔曼先生说,那会导致更多的数量增长,而非大的创新发展,从而对美国的竞争力造成伤害。

For the moment, though, companies are amassing ever larger arsenals of patents. Google, for one, was hit by eight lawsuits in April alone—more than in the first five years of its 13-year existence, says Mr Walker. “See how far we have strayed from the notion of innovation, that we need to acquire patents to fend off potential suits,” he says of the firm’s overall strategy. “That money could have been spent on engineers, to much more productive use.”

尽管如此,现在各公司增加的专利储备越来越多。就拿谷歌来说,四月就接受了八起诉讼——比其成立13年历史中中前五年的接受诉讼都多,沃克尔说。“来看看我们到底已偏离创新概念多远了。我们需要以获得专利来防范诉讼,”他谈到公司的总体战略时说。“那些钱本可以花在工程师身上,用在更高效的地方。”

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重点单词
  • productiveadj. 能生产的,有生产价值的,多产的
  • legaladj. 法律的,合法的,法定的
  • counseln. 商议,忠告,法律顾问 v. 商议,劝告
  • mobilityn. 可动性,变动性,情感不定
  • contentiousadj. 好辩的,好争吵的,有争议的
  • patentn. 专利,特许 adj. 专利的,显著的 vt. 批准
  • senioradj. 年长的,高级的,资深的,地位较高的 n. 年长
  • overalladj. 全部的,全体的,一切在内的 adv. 总的来说
  • universaladj. 普遍的,通用的,宇宙的,全体的,全世界的 n.
  • dubiousadj. 怀疑的,可疑的