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July 20, 2002

Easements for Unused Patents?

The JPEG format for images is one of the most popular on the web. Until this week, the patent behind the format had never been enforced, but a company which acquired the patent a few years ago this week announced they would begin enforcing the patent, throwing up a storm of protest. Many see this as yet another example of "submarine" tactics, where patent holders encourage use of a technology as a public standard, then try to reap the profits of its lock-in among users.

One precedent (a suggestion I found here) in the law for barring such belated assertion of property rights comes from land property rules, where if an owner allows people to use paths across their land for a number of years, they lose the right to prevent passage. Such "easements" essentially mandate a "use it or lose it" approach to asserting property rights.

Given the much higher stakes in assuring trust in public standards, such a rule in the realm of patents seems even more sensible.

Posted by Nathan at July 20, 2002 09:43 AM

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I have never understood why patents holders where allowed to get away with this nonsense. If a copyright holder does not defend their copyright, they lose it. Why are patent holders not held to the same standard?

Posted by: kevin at July 21, 2002 12:23 AM

So how long does the patent last anyway? Is it 20 years? The patent was lodged 16 years ago.

Posted by: John Hardy at July 22, 2002 02:03 AM

The law changed after GATT was approved in 1994, which set a standard of 20 years from day of application. Older patents are protected either 17 years from date the patent was issued or 20 years from application.

Posted by: Nathan at July 22, 2002 09:10 AM

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