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I'm a partner at Greylock, former CEO of Mozilla, founder of Reactivity, dad, husband & nerd, among other things.

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    More nuance on the Yahoo patent situation

    I’ve been thinking about the situation with Yahoo suing Facebook regarding some older patents, and observing the reactions online in blogs and on Twitter. I’ve been struck by how unanimous it’s been, and the emerging narrative that Yahoo has somehow crossed a line, that Internet companies don’t sue each other over patents, etc etc.

    But that’s not right at all: some of the companies we love the most, including Apple and Amazon (most famously, for their aggressive licensing of “One Click Purchase”) and virtually everyone else applies for patents, defends them, and often go offensive with them.

    Without knowinganyparticulars of this current situation, I don’t think that the reaction against Yahoo is really about the actual prosecution of patents at all. But rather that it’s an old, non-innovative company that’s trying to extract a vig (at best) or impede the progress of (at worst) companies who actually are innovating.

    As Keith Rabois put it, the companies that we love and give a pass for being aggressive with patents “…actually launched innovative products, [and didn’t try] to create a revenue stream for non-innovation.”

    That’s the crux of it. The patent system is, to pun a little bit, patently busted. Hasn’t kept up with software, and you can argue whether it was just misguided from the beginning. (I don’t know this area of history well enough, honestly.)

    Again, I don’t know any of the specifics of Yahoo’s claims, so don’t have any comments on that.

    But this reaction, like others, isn’t really about that. It’s about hidebound non-innovating companies who, instead of being like Apple, and somehow finding a way to turn the clock back and rediscover the innovation that made them great by enabling a culture that helps new innovators at their own company — instead of that, they’re trying to dredge up the ghosts of innovators past. But ghosts is what they are, and ghosts won’t move us forward, and they won’t help dying companies become strong again.

    [And: watch this space, because this is going to happen again and again. Intellectual Ventures is a great case in point.]