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Do tech companies, esp the major ones, no longer obtain/enforce intellectual property rights? I s'pose they may have given up on it, due to tech development moving ten times faster than legal protection of it can be established.

The real issues here are (1) what a patent actually protects and (2) how new it is.

>> 1. Here in the States, patents usually are valid for seventeen years. If the patent is older than that, the right to exclusive use has expired.

>> 2. Many technologies are developed under government contracts that give the government a royalty-free world-wide license to use any invention developed thereunder.

>> 3. Many patent claims pertain to specifics of an implementation, rather than core technology, and thus are very easy to work around.

>> 4. Basic physics and mathematical algorithms are not patentable. Network communication protocols are in fact mathematical algorithms.

>> 5. Standards organizations typically require a release of patent claims in order to include a patented technology in a standard.

In the case of computer networking, the basic networking technologies (Ethernet) and protocols (Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), Internet Protocol (IP), Symmetric Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), etc.) of the Internet were developed in the 1970's and 1980's as part of the former ARPAnet, so any applicable patents expired long ago. There's little left to patent that's really going to stop somebody from competing in this market.

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