Sony’s lawyers have been earning their paychecks lately as the embattled giant received another patent infringement lawsuit, this time from Target Technology Company, who alleges that Sony’s Blu-Ray discs use materials that are covered under US patent law. Sony recently settled a lawsuit for $97 million over its “rumble” function on PS2 controllers. Sony adds this new lawsuit to ones attacking its PS2 chip, rootkits installed on music CDs, and for non-interoperable DRM (this one in a French court). Read the Engadgethd and CNET articles.

Licensing patents has become a huge business, one that is largely conducted behind closed doors as corporate patent holders negotiate deals. Many times, the smaller patent holders are forced to sue to uphold their patent rights, claiming that big businesses will not negotiate in good faith. Standards organizations are regularly thrust in the middle of these battles as well, as interested parties try to get their patented technologies included in standards that could make the patent holders millions.

More references:

Sony sued over copy-protected CDs (BBC)

Sony sued over PS2 chip (CNet)

Apple, Sony sued over DRM in France (CNet)

Consideration of Patents during the Setting of Standards (FTC and DOJ Roundtable)

It seems to me that in virtually every situation in the past, the technologies that are adopted by the most people are the ones that were widely licensed for nominal costs. The IBM (IBM Compatible when I was building them) PC rose in prominence in large part because its design was freely available, manufacturers drove costs down by competing in the parts market, and as a result, they were generally cheaper than the relatively expensive machines that Apple touted as much easier to use.

Where should the balance be between compensating researchers for their patented work and defining standards that everyone should follow? Should corporations deal the same way with patent holders whether they are corporate or individual? Will the growing cost of patent licensing slow down innovation? Join the discussion.