While I was in Japan touring Toughbook facilities, one of the more interesting discussions I had with one of the Japanese execs was in regards to patents.
Panasonic doesn’t file nearly as many patents as some other IT organisations. Given how specialised and valuable the Toughbook design is to the business unit, that struck me as strange.
Yet the explanation was simple enough, and convinced me immediately, and to paraphrase, said, “If we file a patent, another organisation can read that patent, slightly improve on it, and use it in the market themselves.”
In a strange way, then, patenting technology that is difficult to reverse engineer is therefore potentially more damaging than keeping the knowledge to yourself.
Coming back to Australia and watching the war between Samsung and Apple escalate, two companies that need one another mutually, and yet find themselves at legal loggerheads, the logic makes all the more sense.
Obviously, some things do need to be patented. The Toughbook case design itself is something Panasonic has patented, because it’s easy to see how that works just from a quick look. But some of the technologies within the equipment itself is a closely guarded secret.
That raises a question: Every so often a vendor will boast about how many patents it owns, and indeed patents are the reason Google acquired Motorola, and Apple, Sony and others collaborated to outbid Google for Novell patents. Those are all public knowledge, and the nature of technology is that an R&D budget can look into a patent, and at some point, improve on it.
So the question is: Should corporations be more careful about what they patent? If Panasonic is able to be a corporation of its size and scope without being a market-leading patent filing machine, would it be preferable for others to follow that lead?
If nothing else, it might help reduce the legal bills and allow Samsung and Apple get back to competing effectively with one another, and forcing the quality of each other’s products upwards.