I was angered to hear that the new chief executive of Altera is warning that companies trying to merge programmable logic with ASICs or standard products could find the job "impossible" unless they license technology from his company or its chief rival, Xilinx (see Oct. 1, page 1). As others in our story noted, there are sources of this technology beyond the two FPGA market leaders. And the job of crafting the new generation of programmable platforms is tough enough without saber rattling about bringing in the lawyers.
Another story in that same issue made me seethe. European standards groups said they have no plans to open doors for the rising tide of 802.11 wireless LANs that are finally grabbing a foothold in the U.S. One reason for their reticence: No one has asked.
Granted, companies have to defend their patent portfolios, and governments must responsibly manage their spectrum. But this is not the time to use technology to put up barriers and collect tolls. We are on the precipice of a global recession and the trough of one of the steepest declines in technology spending in history. It's time to enable new technologies and markets.
What really fries me is that Altera's John Daane and the bureaucrats at the European Telecommunications Standards Institute are not alone. As I write this, I am in the midst of poring over responses to an earlier editorial about Shuji Nakamura, the inventor of the blue LED, who received a lowly $100 for a patent that made his company millions.
Nakamura's is not an isolated case. Engineers are generally undercompensated for their patent work, which often creates portfolios from which companies reap millions. My research seems to be leading to a pretty widespread picture of duplicity between how companies value patents in relation to their engineers and in relation to the industry at large.
It might seem like good timing, when sales are in the toilet, to trot out the lawyers and regulators to protect markets and generate patent revenues. But I would argue the industry needs a counterintuitive response . Let's use technology aggressively to enable innovations. The rising tide will lift all boats.