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The Slippery Slope Of Tech Patents

It's tempting to bad-mouth companies that enforce technology patents; it seems as though they are raining on the parade of new technology that will make our world a better place.

It's particularly tempting to diss Wi-LAN, which claimed this week that most WiMAX equipment will unavoidably infringe on its patents. This company has made no secret that part of its business plan revolves around cashing in on patents, some of which it has acquired from other companies. It has already sued several companies for patent infringement, including Cisco.

But there's a principal involved here, so let's not be too hasty in beating up Wi-LAN. Overall, patents are good things that encourage development of new technologies. And the law is clear that companies like Wi-LAN can acquire -- and enforce -- patents rather than doing the hard work themselves.

Perhaps the biggest casualty of efforts of companies like Wi-LAN are the carefully crafted public relations campaigns by companies with similarly vested interests in new technology. Intel has been particularly busy lately, building up frothy expectations for WiMAX and framing it as the next Wi-Fi.

This is not to comment on the validity of Wi-LAN's claims -- courts will determine that. It's also impossible to know whether its efforts will put a crimp on the adoption of potentially important technologies like wireless broadband.

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