Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thanks for Helping!

"Patent holding company"

"Non-practicing entity"

Names like these sound official and respectable. But what about "patent troll?"

I wasn't aware of their existence till recently, as I was perusing the Internet for information on patents. A friend and I have recently founded a technology start-up, so, of course, we're looking into patenting our product. I'm not trained in law, but I can imagine the legal process for filing is quite obtuse. And, naturally, where there are confusing processes afoot, there are opportunities to make money. What these patent trolls do, apparently, is hold a trove of patents, not using them, but merely hanging on to them. Then when some, usually large and rich, company tries to file for a new product, said troll jumps out of the bushes and shouts "aha!" and slaps forth an enormous lawsuit.

Perhaps the most well publicized patent troll "attack" was when NTP sued RIM, of Blackberry fame, over its patents. RIM settled to the tune of $612 million. The great, sad irony? It was fairly widely accepted that NTP's patents would be nullified to "prior art," which means there is evidence of the patented technology prior to the patent filing. However, the law does not care if the patents are eventually overturned. So long as NTP's name was written on those documents, they could sue.

Legal complications aside, this form of "business" is revolting to me. Although, easy money is hard to turn down. Patent trolls actively hurt growth by scaring new firms from entering the market, and possibly stopping or slowing down new innovation. These companies are about as helpful as a computer virus. Thanks guys! You should be ashamed of yourselves...

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