Ford

'Patents are good!' say seven big companies

April 3, 2014: 9:00 AM ET

Apple, DuPont, Ford, GE, IBM, Microsoft, and Pfizer joined forces today to endorse the basic soundness of our patent system.

innovation-idea-brain

FORTUNE -- In a gesture that is most remarkable for the fact that someone thought it necessary at all, a diverse group of seven major corporations joined forces this morning to say little more than, basically: Patents are good.

The group, which calls itself the Partnership for American Innovation, hopes to stem what their members see as overblown negativity and hostility toward the patent system in the media, Congress, and the courts.

The group's charter members are Apple (AAPL), DuPont (DD), Ford (F), General Electric (GE), IBM (IBM), Microsoft (MSFT), and Pfizer (PFE), and its "senior advisor" is Dave Kappos, the former director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, who is now a partner with the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. The group expects additional members to be enlisting in the days ahead, according to a spokesperson.

"We must move beyond rhetoric that 'the system is broken and trolls are bringing businesses to a complete halt,'" Kappos says in a press release, "to a discussion of calibrated improvements for what is actually the best patent system our planet has."

MORE: Are lobbyists the biggest losers post-McCutcheon?

The group's message is astoundingly basic, and not tied to support for, or opposition to, any particular patent reform bill now pending in Congress or to any one issue now being weighed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The group's members merely endorse three broad principles:

  • "(1) The American economy is best served by a strong patent system that protects high-quality innovation in all fields of technology;
  • (2) It is critical to our global economy that IP is respected by all participants in the system; and
  • (3) The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must be properly funded to efficiently and effectively process patent applications and issue only high-quality patents."

Though the formation of the group is tied to no topical hook, it does arrive tellingly just three days after oral argument in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, a U.S. Supreme Court case that poses the fundamental question of whether computer-implemented inventions like software are patentable at all.

In an interview with Kappos, the most specific information I could wheedle out of him was that the new group's members all apparently agree that software is certainly patentable.

"How is it cars can parallel park themselves today?" he asks, rhetorically. "Is it the sensors? Is it the cameras? No. Those existed before. It's the software."

MORE: Could this be Armageddon for shareholder class actions?

"In the view of the partnership," he continues, "great innovation should be protected. Full stop. Software; firmware; biotech-related; physical sciences; pharmaceuticals: Great innovation is great innovation, and needs to be strongly incentivized and protected."

In contrast, in the Alice case, a number of younger Silicon Valley companies, including LinkedIn (LNKD), Netflix (NFLX), Rackspace (RAX), Trulia (TRLA), and Twitter (TWTR), urged the Court that "software patents do not serve the Constitutional purpose of the patent system." In their brief, authored by Stanford Law School intellectual property scholar Mark Lemley, the companies argued: "We create innovative software because of our desire to delight our customers and despite, not because of the patent system ... Innovation happens despite software patents, not because of them."

Today's formation of the Partnership, then, may reflect a frustration comparable to that expressed in IBM's amicus brief in the CLS Bank case, which began with this cri de coeur: "Software is not a new technology. It has been around in various forms for well over half a century. During that time it has become one of the fundamental building blocks of innovation and technological advancement, and a critical part of our nation's economy. Software is the medium for innovation in every field, from automobile manufacturing to medicine. The fact that the Court is now -- in 2014 -- actively considering such a basic question as whether computer-implemented inventions such as software are even eligible for patent protection is deeply troubling." (IBM's attorneys were led by Paul Clement of the Bancroft law firm.)

  • Inside NASCAR's sponsor club

    NASCAR's Fuel for Business Council holds closed-door sessions each year. It's where Fortune 500 brands that don't normally come together brainstorm new marketing ideas, both related to NASCAR -- and not.

    By Daniel Roberts, writer-reporter

    FORTUNE -- In sports marketing, there are certain perks that come with being a top advertiser: a sponsor's box, meet-and-greets with the biggest athletes, tickets to the Super Bowl. For NASCAR's biggest sponsors, it's access to MORE

    Mar 7, 2014 10:46 AM ET
  • Big SUVs soldier on, in smaller numbers

    They suffered a setback in the last decade. Now GM dominates the category and is betting big on these large vehicles.

    By Doron Levin

    FORTUNE -- The yelling and screaming over big SUVs from a decade ago ended in a draw. Liberals scolded conservatives, arguing that vehicles like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition were too wasteful, too unsafe -- too obnoxious, in the eyes of their detractors -- to MORE

    Mar 4, 2014 10:01 AM ET
    Posted in: , , ,
  • Ford's aluminum secret weapon

    The CEO of aluminum supplier Novelis is a familiar face to the auto maker: He used to be a senior Ford executive.

    By Doron Levin

    FORTUNE -- Ford Motor Co.'s gutsy decision to build its next-generation F-Series pickups, starting this summer, from aluminum instead of steel prompted whistles of amazement across the industry.

    The leap is a huge one, which Ford (F) is prepared to make because it sees the virtue in MORE

    Feb 12, 2014 5:00 AM ET
  • Will aluminum lighten Ford's load?

    After its metal makeover, F-150 will become more fuel-efficient, but it's unclear if the change will alter the truck's strong image.

    By Doron Levin

    FORTUNE -- Ford Motor Co.'s decision to build its new F-150 with a mostly aluminum body is a moonshot, the first time an automaker has employed so much of the metal in a mainstream vehicle. The new F-150 will appear later this year and is Ford's single MORE

    Jan 31, 2014 11:43 AM ET
  • The next thin slice of luxury from Ford

    The 2015 Lincoln Navigator gives the company a model that competes against the Range Rover and Escalade, but building a luxe brand is a long slog.

    By Doron Levin

    FORTUNE -- The new Lincoln Navigator signifies a spruced-up addition to Ford Motor Co.'s vehicle lineup. More importantly, the big and fancy SUV proves that Ford hasn't lost its determination to recreate the Lincoln luxury brand.

    Taken alone, the 2015 Navigator, which will MORE

    Jan 23, 2014 11:47 AM ET
  • Ford Mustang's global challenge

    More important than beating GM and Chrysler for hometown bragging rights will be establishing the 2015 Mustang as a model that can win hearts and open wallets overseas.

    By Doron Levin

    FORTUNE -- Every automaker has its bread-and-butter models, the ones that sell in volume and at high enough prices to generate sufficient cash to run the entire company. For Ford Motor Co., that's the F-150 pickup truck.

    But Ford's (F) heart MORE

    Dec 4, 2013 5:00 AM ET
  • The global automakers' final frontier

    To keep up sales growth, car companies need to enter the so-called "beyond BRIC" markets -- which include countries as large as Indonesia and as small as Belize.

    Oct 29, 2013 5:00 AM ET
  • Toyota is trying for a do-over in trucks

    The company hopes "Made in America" -- and then some -- will convince truck drivers to give its Tundra another look.

    By Doron Levin

    FORTUNE -- Toyota Motor Corp. is mounting a new charge on the full-size pickup market in the U.S. after learning a painful lesson in humility when its last version of the Tundra fell short.

    Many were predicting that shopper enthusiasm for Toyota's (TM) current Tundra model might impair, perhaps MORE

    Jul 30, 2013 1:38 PM ET
  • Detroit's bankruptcy is an utter defeat

    The city's darkest day is a tragedy a long time in the making.

    By Doron Levin

    FORTUNE -- The bankruptcy filing on the afternoon of July 18 by the city of Detroit isn't just a massive financial implosion. Nor is it simply a milestone moment, the biggest municipal collapse ever in U.S. history. It is an utter defeat.

    Detroit's bankruptcy is a profound failure for a place where once beat the heart MORE

    Jul 19, 2013 6:54 AM ET
Search This Column
View all entries from this: Week, Month
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.