An anonymous reader writes: For most of us, a billion dollars is a lot of money.
I use the phrase "for most of us" because, according to Alpha magazine (April 2007), last year three hedge fund managers each took home well in excess of $1 billion (yes, Billion with a "B").
Here's another number for you: in total, the top 25 earners on Alpha's list pulled in more than $14 billion in 2006, equivalent, the magazine reported, "to the GDP of Jordan or Uruguay."
In case you were wondering, the mega-earners were James Simons of Renaissance Technologies ($1.7 billion), Kenneth Griffin of Citadel Investment Group ($1.4 billion), and Edward Lampert of Sears Holdings ($1.3 billion).
For the rest of us, whose W-2 forms do not have a 10-digit number in the box labeled "income," the dollar amounts involved in two patent infringement cases over the past year seem astonishingly high. In February, a California jury ruled that Microsoft must pay Alcatel-Lucent $1.52 billion for infringing two MP3 audio compression patents in software added to Microsoft's Windows Media Player. (Microsoft plans to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington state).
This action follows last year's $612.5 million settlement between Research in Motion (RIM) and NTP. To avert a possible court-ordered shutdown of its BlackBerry system, RIM paid the equivalent of a year's worth of revenue to the small Virginia-based patentholding firm, which had sued RIM claiming the BlackBerry infringed on several of its patents.
Stung by the scope of these awards, the high tech community has gone on the offensive in calling for reform of the U.S. patent process, which has long been criticized as stifling rather than promoting innovation while serving to elicit lawsuits that extort large settlements.
At the heart of the matter is the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), an agency commonly described as overwhelmed and unable to keep pace with new and developing technology. As of mid-2005, the average length of time it would take to reach a first action on the merits of a new application in the area of control circuits was 44 months, for computer security it was 39 months, and for medical instruments 46 to 54 months.
In all, there is an estimated backlog at USPTO of over 675,000 patent applications, a number that is expected to rise to nearly 800,000 by year's end. While funding for the USPTO has increased in recent years allowing the agency to hire 1,200 new people per year to its patent examiner corps, legislative changes are also needed.
Congress to the rescue?