I never understood patent law very well or even knew what a patent troll until I started writing for the Feature. Back then a company called neomedia would constantly give me a hard time whenever i wrote about mobile barcodes (especially in Asia) because they claimed to own all the patents on this idea and swore that they did it first. Neomedia is still around, and still making these same claims. But neomedia never made anything, they bought the intellectual property from cuecat (remember them?) and then put up a web page with examples of how their technology would work. Supposedly Neomedia finally has a working barcode reader now, but of course so does every phone manufacturer outside the US.

Like Neomedia with barcodes or NTP with wireless email (though slightly less so), Qualcomm has become a patent troll with wireless technology. Qualcomm owns all the patents on CDMA, now granted their founders actually invented CDMA and have used it in actual products since the beginning. so they are not squatting on this patent. and it was the GSM association’s own stupidity for developing WCDMA that created Qualcomm’s first patent squabbles. This has now led to Nokia and Qualcomm duking it out over WCDMA and GSM and Nokia giving up on CDMA altogether. This has also led to Qualcomm’s selfish royalty pricing that makes CDMA handsets too expensive for developing nations when compared to GSM ones.

Now Qualcomm is starting to enter official patent troll territory by going out and buying companies that may hold important patents on next generation wireless technologies like OFDM and MIMO. Thanks to these purchases they claim to own over 1000 patents on 4G technologies. Make no mistake about it, these technologies are critical to 4G the same way CDMA turned out to be the basis for all 3G. OFDM and MIMO are not just part of UMB and LTE (CDMA and GSM’s next gen technologies, respectively) but also to WiMax.

Qualcomm is getting cocky now and saying that because of their patents, UMB will rule the world. and then has the gall to talk about how them owning a few patents for 2G technology is keeping the market safe from Nokia’s monopoly! Although it’s possible that some flavors of WiMax could escape Qualcomm’s patent grasp, it’s pretty much impossible for LTE to do the same because of OFDM. Nokia and other GSM proponents may have worked around MIMO with their new SDMA technology, but it’s less likely they can circumvent qualcomm’s OFDM claim. but should they even have to?

OFDM is actually a pretty obvious, though very difficult to describe concept. and the supreme court has recently been going on a rampage against obvious patents for the exact reason being demonstrated here. companies can patent something obvious then use that to extract money from other companies who were equally aware of this obvious solution.

i admit, i’m a technological communist. i’m plenty happy for qualcomm to design chips and base stations and what not and make money that way – i’m not a total communist. but making money by trying to control the spread of an idea with the help of expensive lawyers just hurts everyone. It retards the advancement of technology and significantly holds back access to it in poorer economies.