A while back I slammed Sun Microsystem’s President and CEO Jonathan Schwartz for calling those of us who enforce patents “spurious litigators.” Well, an article I came across today suggests Sun may now be ready and willing to do the right thing. At least that’s the sense I get from hearing Sun’s recent statement regarding patents, patent lawsuits and the actions Sun might take in the future.

The thrust of Sun’s statement seems to be that Sun will be doing two things that (if true) make a lot of sense to me.

First, Sun is committing itself to protecting its customers from patent suits through meaningful indemnification agreements. True, such agreements have been around for years, but often the companies that make them don’t honor them, leaving their customers to take the heat alone. Sun, apparently, intends to stand behind its products in a meaningful way and “take bullets” (ouch!) to protect its customers. That’s good. More companies should follow suit.

Second, Sun has apparently conceded that good patents do exist, that not all patent infringement lawsuits are frivolous and that sometimes it makes good business sense to make a deal rather than fight to the death. Although Sun should be commended for this approach, it in fact took a lot of heat for its recent decision to settle with Kodak. That Sun should be slammed for respecting legitimate patent rights is unfair and perhaps indicative of how many in the industry view even good patents.

What many people forget is that no matter how ubiquitous and familiar a particular technology becomes, the fact is someone sat down and dreamed it up in the first place. It didn’t just grow on a tree or spring into existence on its own. Once in a while, the person responsible even applies for and gets a patent. A valid patent. One that can and should bring him rewards commensurate with his achievement. Should he lose his rights just because everybody grows accustomed to using his technology? Should he lose his rights just because everyone becomes so familiar with his invention they literally can’t remember life without it (and thus wrongly assume it was “always” around)?

I just get a little tired of hearing that every invention is as old as the hills, that every patent that comes along is totally worthless, and that everyone who enforces a patent is just trying to get rich at someone else’s expense. If every technology is “old” and “obvious,” why is it that the technologies of today are so greatly different from those of even ten years ago? If they are so old, if they are so obvious, why weren’t they in use then? More importantly, if they are so old and obvious, why can’t teams of high-priced lawyers come up with actual evidence to demonstrate these simple facts even after spending millions of dollars trying to do so?

Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe I’m even misreading Sun’s intent. Maybe Sun is just saying, “We have seven billion dollars in our war chest” and if you try messing with one of their customers, they’ll make sure you’re very, very sorry. I don’t think that’s the case. To me it sounds as if they’ve discovered it’s good business to respect legitimate patents and the people who own them. At least I’d like to thinks so. I guess time will tell.

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Photo of Philip P. Mann Philip P. Mann

Philip P. Mann is a trial lawyer with over twenty years experience litigating patent, trademark, trade secret, and other intellectual property matters throughout the country.
Mann’s trial work has taken him to various federal and state courts where he’s tried both cases to…

Philip P. Mann is a trial lawyer with over twenty years experience litigating patent, trademark, trade secret, and other intellectual property matters throughout the country.
Mann’s trial work has taken him to various federal and state courts where he’s tried both cases to the court (a judge) as well as before juries. In addition to trial court work, Mann has performed appellate work before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Mann began his legal career in Chicago and Milwaukee before heading to Seattle where some of America’s most innovative companies were developing new technologies at breakneck speed. Before founding his own firm, he was a member of the Seattle Intellectual Property Law Firm, Christensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness.
Mann is an “AV” rated lawyer by Martindale Hubbell, indicative that he has reached the height of professional excellence and is recognized for the highest levels of skill and integrity.
He holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois (Urbana) and received his law degree from the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri. He is admitted to practice in the States of Illinois and Washington, as well as before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and in various courts around the country.