The best hope for continued innovation is that the new middlemen who have built up their own patent holdings will provide a counterweight to the more aggressive rights-holders. Intellectual Ventures, one of the biggest IP wholesalers, on Wednesday added BlackBerry maker Research in Motion to the list of customers covered by its 30,000 patents, joining rival smartphone makers Samsung and HTC.
To critics, this looks like a protection racket, forcing vulnerable companies to pay licence fees to the Intellectual Ventures of the world rather than risk even more lawsuits. But if they can call on these larger holdings of IP in their defence when a larger rival mounts a legal challenge, it should help to level the playing field.
One thing is certain. As the price of smartphones plummet, payments for intellectual property – either in licence fees paid to groups such as Nokia, or insurance paid to companies such as Intellectual Ventures and RPX – are set to become a meaningful share of the cost. But at least the market should not be locked up by a handful of dominant patent holders.