Are Yahoo and other tech companies improperly ‘weaponizing’ patents?

We have told Naples readers before about high-tech companies battling it out over patents and accusing each other of infringing on the all-important technology that distinguishes their products and services from those of their competitors. That story is nothing new.

What are new, however, are recent allegations about “weaponizing” patents. Saying someone is “weaponizing” a patent means that a patent-holder rushed to patent something, perhaps before the subject of the patent was even finished, so that the patent-holder could later use the patent to sue a competitor and keep that competitor at a disadvantage. It’s contrary to the idea that a patent should be used defensively and has attracted some criticism from patent experts.

A recent illustration of “weaponization” comes from a former employee of Yahoo. This employee claims that Yahoo encouraged its employees to file patents and is now using some those patents to “extort” money from Facebook. That would not be a problem except for that Yahoo filed deliberately vague patents, according to this employee, and is suing just before Facebook makes its IPO (which means it has an incentive offer Yahoo “go away” money to avoid bad publicity). Essentially, the allegation here is that Yahoo did not seek these patents to protect its intellectual property; it filed them so it would have arrows in its quiver.

It is important to note that the employee who made these claims no longer works for Yahoo, so he could just have a bad attitude towards the company. We muyst also note that these are only allegations. Still, he is not the only tech-industry professional to make allegations of patent “weaponizing.” It will be interesting to see if this is indeed a trend in the industry and, if it is, whether government regulators will take measures to stop it.

Source: The Telegraph, “Yahoo ‘weaponising’ patents to take on Facebook,” Matt Warman, March 14, 2012