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How Patent Trolls Harm the Economy 123

Posted by timothy
from the indifference-aforethought dept.
WebMink writes "It used to just be speculation, but the numbers are now in — patent trolls are costing America jobs and economic growth. Newly-published research using data commissioned by Congress shows big rises in patent troll activity over the last five years — from 22% to 40% of all patent suits filed, with 4 out of five litigants being patent trolls. Other papers show that jobs are being lost and startups threatened, while VC money is just making things worse by making startups waste money filing more patents. Worst of all, it's clear this is just the tip of the iceberg; there's evidence that unseen pre-lawsuit settlements with patent trolls represent a much larger threat than anything the research can easily measure."
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How Patent Trolls Harm the Economy

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  • Indirect damage (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @03:30PM (#41723661)

    This study only looks at the first order effects. What about the technologies that are going undeployed or never see commercial application because of patents and copyrights? They were originally supposed to inspire innovation, not inspire innovative people to flee our country to sell their work overseas. I have any number of ideas that could create jobs and help our economy that simply aren't possible in this country because of our stupid laws.

    Take auto-updating software and system security. Right now, the only thing the end-user has is overpriced anti-virus and malware software, and they have to go to "Geek Squad" or some other place and pay an arm and a leg to do routine maintenance. If I could package and distribute software, and somehow integrate licensing and payment into a single deployment platform, I could help people keep their software current and establish my own "app store", but with finer-grained controls and the ability to not just download and install software, but actually integrate support for the product as well. No more searching for a phone number to call, or floundering with "how do I do X in this?" If you got infected with some malware, someone could remote in anytime and fix it, at a very low cost due to economy of scale.

    But unless you're a multibillion dollar company like Apple, Google, or Microsoft, there's no way you can hire enough lawyers or have enough market clout to get something like that off the ground. The cost of entry into the market is so high that only mega corporations can afford it. Rather than lowering the barrier to innovation, it's created a massive wall to it, where only a select few can release anything new.

    And then we get crap like the FCC -- they botched the digital TV transition so bad they should all be hung by their balls in the public square until they drop off. It was pure profit, and the consumer suffered in terms of price fixing, limited supplies of converter boxes, and the spectrum that was sold off hasn't really benefited them in any way -- they took public spectrum and made it private, while raking in billions. And then they cost us billions more in conversion costs, when they should have been using the money from those auctions to help out the people they forced to upgrade in the firstplace. This is the kind of shit copyright and patenting do -- force people into only a handful of solutions, all overpriced and not competitive, and deny anyone else the chance to come up with a better solution that would benefit someone other than the corporate overlords.

    • by houghi (78078)

      not inspire innovative people to flee our country to sell their work overseas.

      This is not just a problem for the USofA. It is a problem for everybody in the world. Well, unless you are a CEO or a lawyer, that is.

      • Re:Indirect damage (Score:5, Interesting)

        by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @04:50PM (#41724099)

        This is not just a problem for the USofA. It is a problem for everybody in the world. Well, unless you are a CEO or a lawyer, that is.

        I've been helping an ex-pat friend of mine in China set this exact thing up. You wanna know what the government and investors told him after he propped the idea: "Let's do it. We'll make sure you get the approval you need." And by approval, they meant bribes. They love ex-pats over there, and even the everyday joe here can, with a modicum of business sense, become a demigod over there. The only reason I don't move over there is... well, it's still China. I could be rich, but I like my freedoms more than money.

        • Re:Indirect damage (Score:5, Interesting)

          by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @11:30PM (#41725859) Homepage

          No, wrong. You don't need bribes to do business in China. Only fools conduct business that way.

          "One of the things I have always found troubling about Westerners doing business in emerging market countries is that they sometimes take an almost perverse pride in discussing payoffs to government officials. It is as though their having paid a bribe is a symbol of their international sophistication and insider knowledge. Yet, countless times when I am told of the bribe, I know the very same thing could almost certainly have been accomplished without a bribe."
          --Dan Harris, chinalawblog.com [chinalawblog.com]

          • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Monday October 22, 2012 @12:42AM (#41726097) Journal

            We already know how bad the impact of patent/copyright trolling is, even before they came up with the numbers.

            For years and years, - if not for more than a decade, - so many unwarranted lawsuits had been filed just to satisfy the insatiable appetites of the patent/copyright trolls.

            I don't, not even for a femto-second, believe that the critters on the Congressional Hill do not know the damage done by patent/copyright trolls.

            They already knew what happened, it's just that they had NO INTENTION TO CHANGE.

            The more patent/copyright trolling lawsuits got filed, the more the lawyers' lobbyists will pay them congresscritters.

            I can bet, with my bottom dollar, that no concrete change will be forthcoming from Washington D.C.

            They may pay some lip services - after all, they _ARE_ politicians - they may even "Ooooms" and "Aaaahs", pretending that they are doing something, but the final outcome will be the same old, same old.

            As long as the lawyers get paid, they will pay the congresscritters.

            And as long as the congresscritters get paid, all of us get screwed.
             

            • You know, I haven't seen "boxen" for quite some time now. Yeah!

              Along that line, I have a nomination for the next slang term or phrase to be abandoned: "congress critters". Really, what is the point of this term? "Critter" is just a cutesy, faux hillbilly way of saying "animal", so you are what? A wannabe hillbilly who expresses his or her cynicism about congress people by calling them animals, only in a watered down manner by using cutesy language? And taking this stance adds to the import of your p
          • Yes, it could have just as easily been accomplished by having the person assassinated.

          • Probably right (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) on Monday October 22, 2012 @08:57AM (#41728119)
            I work for a Fortune 300 company who I don't want to name. We do most of our business in North America but are trying to grow in China and we do have a presence there. My company continually beats it into the heads of all employees that we do not pay bribes to anybody to get business and we'd rather lose the business than pay a bribe. So I suspect that what Dan Harris says is probably right. I've been to China and I have friends who live there and my impression from my trips is that the "loss of freedoms" is somewhat annoying and not much else. For example, you can't get into Facebook. But people who live there complain as much about their government as people in the west do, it's just that they are complaining about various injustices and corruption instead of stuff like "I don't like Obamacare".
          • by stymy (1223496)
            Keep in mind that just because something can be done without a bribe doesn't mean it was a waste of money. In third world countries it's common to pay bribes just to speed paperwork and inspections up, so you don't have to wait a year to get approval or something. I say this as someone from Argentina, where bribes are very common in business.
          • by eionmac (949755)

            Your www.chinalawblog.com seems to be inaccessible

            • It's related to the giant Amazon cloud server outage today. Try again later, the blog is really excellent (not mine).
      • I think companies which did not support software patent reformists [ffii.org] and open standards deserve to suffer.
    • So, what you're saying is that nobody can built an appstore, right? I'm sorry, but that's utter bullshit. There are dozens of startup app stores out there for, say, android or PC that claim to do exactly as you propose. steam is one that seems to be more or less successful. there are few if any technological or patent barriers preventing you from making your own appstore - i noticed a new PC one the other day. the problem isn't that you can't make one, the problem is that you have neither a unique ide

      • Re:Indirect damage (Score:5, Informative)

        by jopsen (885607) <jopsen@gmail.com> on Sunday October 21, 2012 @04:53PM (#41724115) Homepage
        Sure, you are partly right, that building a new app-store isn't something you'll be sued over... Well, atleast untill you're reasonably successful, then you're sure to get sued. Just, look at what happened to Samsung.

        That's said I really doubt that patenting an idea will help you.
        In the software industry, patents are for troll and companies with money enough to waste it on self-defence. The industry is moving so fast that first-to-market with a new technology is enough. Beside if anybody violates you patent and manages to get more customers, the courts will never be able to compensate you sufficiently.

        I recently heard from a medical software start-up that patents and by implication VC capital was necessary, in their niche area. But he bluntly admitted that he didn't think he had a chance at enforcing the patent anyway. It was just to lure investors on-board.

        Out side the medical industry, patents have no value... Even if I had a patent for something Facebook did, by the time I won the case against Facebook, they would have grown so big that it wouldn't matter to them, and my compensation would be insignificant anyway. Which, is fair because FB probably didn't only succeed because of ideas they stole from others, but for a long reason of things, including luck.

        The only place in the software industry where I think patents could be valid, is when the company has the option to keep it's competitive advantage as a trade secret, instead of filling a patent. But in most cases, device designs, user interface ideas and any algorithm that runs on the client this doesn't make sense.
        For instance it might be worthwhile to award google a patent on their search algorithm, in exchange for having it publicly disclosed.
        (I think these cases are rare, and ought to be the exception).
        IMO, patents should serve to help disclosure instead of trade secrets, to serve society, not greedy individuals.
    • by Kergan (780543) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @05:30PM (#41724299)

      Methinks you're seriously underestimating the difficulty of creating what you've in mind.

      There's nothing unusual about doing so, btw. Typically, this stems from over-thinking about the success case, while neglecting to think about what can go wrong. In real systems, basically everything that can go wrong eventually will. And things need to scale. Potentially massively.

      This stuff is so hard, that not a single company out there gets it right. Not a single one. Not even Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Salesforce, you name it. Also note that none of the various app stores even begin to try to touch support or custom-licensing with a 6-foot pole. Both are cesspools of problems in their right.

      Anyway, regarding your worries about patent trolls: if you actually did pull it off, then IP and patent issues would be, IMHO, the least of your worries.

      • The point is, it would be useful, everyone would still get paid the market rate for the work they've created, and it is (thanks to stupid laws) totally illegal. When something that would benefit almost everyone is illegal, the law is broken.

      • by devent (1627873) on Monday October 22, 2012 @12:48AM (#41726109) Homepage

        RedHat and Suse are doing that just fine for thousand of packages. So do Debian and Canonical. It's called package repository and with the main package repository that contains applications like Apache, Bind, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and many more, they offer support and security updates.

        They can do that because they have no limitations of copyright, because every copyright holder of the applications in the main package repositories agreed to that a third party can modify and distribute their applications. Also known as Open Source.

        I don't know, but I think girlintraining are thinking like that kind of repository but for proprietary applications.

        • by Kergan (780543)

          Hosting the repository, per your comment, is a long solved problem. Slightly more complex, but also solved, is processing installs and updates without making client devices crash.

          These, however, are trivial compared to the absolute mess that billing and access restrictions introduce in the process. Let along remote support...

  • The headline lies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mumblestheclown (569987) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @03:31PM (#41723669)

    First, I am no fan of patent trolls. However, both the article's headline and the slashdot headline are misleading.

    The article claims "the numbers don't lie." The "numbers" it speaks of are basically the results of a survey in which one researchers polled a few startups and asked them if patent trolls were an issue. Quite a few said yes.

    But the number is entirely without context. To use a slashdot favorite, the existence of cars also puts buggy whip manufacturers out of business and "costs them jobs." Just because something has an adverse effect on somebody's business.. or in this case somebody's potential business doesn't make it bad for the economy. in fact, taken as a whole you'd be hard pressed to find a legitimate study (not some boldrine and levine ass-pulled crapola) that suggests that patents taken as a whole are bad for an economy and for r&d - quite the opposite, taken as a whole, they're very very good. are there rough edges in patent regimes? of course. but i'd argue that patent trolls aren't really the problem. the real problem is the granting of patents unnecessarily for obvious bullshiat. if that goes away, then the sort of patent trolls that peopel complain about go away.

    i have no problem with legitimate patent trolls, by which i mean some small company has made some innovation and then sues the hell out of some large company who simply ignores the small company's prior art. too many of you on slashdot are ironically too pro big business by proposing systems by which big companies could more easily do just that. legitimate holders of worthy ideas who lack the resources to turn those ideas into products have a financial incentive to license or transfer the ideas to those who can. and if they do get treated unfairly, like the guy who made the intermittent wiper blades was, then by all means, sue sue sue.

    it could be that "patent trolls" really are a drain on the economy, but this article makes no such case. let's not forget that to somebody wanting the IP of somebody else, it's often convenient to "cry troll" and complain about all sorts of doom and gloom. i mean, darn that patent troll, oh, i dunno, porsche with their patent on some innovative brake mechanism who are keeping me from developing the next generation supercar and hiring tens of thousands of workers to develop it! if only they weren't such patent trolls hanging on to patents for the inventions that they developed!

    more likely than not, this is only so much more verbage, planted here on slashdot where most anti-IP slanted stuff, no matter how specious, gets modded +5.

    • Re:The headline lies (Score:4, Informative)

      by knotprawn (1935752) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @03:44PM (#41723757)
      Not just the headline, the summary is rather unclear too. The summary states that

      Newly-published research using data commissioned by Congress shows big rises in patent troll activity over the last five years — from 22% to 40% of all patent suits filed, with 4 out of five litigants being patent trolls

      However, the actual article states that

      Not only has the number of cases increased, but so has the proportion of these non-product-related litigants, from 22 percent to 40 percent of cases filed. They found that four of the top five patent litigants in America exist solely to file lawsuits.

      The missing word, in the summary, of course, is TOP, without which the summary makes very little sense, statistics and common-sense wise.

    • Re:The headline lies (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mikael (484) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @03:49PM (#41723785)

      The current example I can think of is "floating-point textures" for GPU's. 15-20 years ago (1990's, 80287/80387, TMS34082), it was impossible to put all the transistor logic to handle floating-point calculations onto a single chip, let alone a cluster of them, so that concept was patented. Today, it's possible to get off-the-shelf logic cells that implement floating-point calculations, and the size of a GPU core is smaller than a NAND gate of a 6502. But the minute you combine graphics with floating-point, you suddenly become liable to pay-the-troll, even though CPU implementations (software rendering) won't be liable, nor will languages like OpenCL. It's only when you combine floating-point with graphics that the patent applies.

    • by dimko (1166489)
      Imagine, Everyone steals everything. A lot of competition. 0 RND. The winner will be the one a) that has better prices/support/etc b) Someone wo does little things better, someone who innovates. Eitherway, customer wins.
      • by chrismcb (983081)
        If everyone steals everything, there will be little incentive to innovate. And thus the customer loses.
        • Re:The headline lies (Score:5, Informative)

          by Ironhandx (1762146) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @08:23PM (#41725105)

          This is a false maxim. Innovation happened at a (relatively speaking) much faster pace before patents became the norm. The only thing protecting them were trade secrets. Which worked just fine. Patents came along to spur innovation because things like steam engines (probably a bad example, but you get the idea) were being kept as trade secrets and in order to compete you would have to develop your own from scratch. Nowadays with all of the advanced design tools we have? Minimal cost. You just need to have a clue as to what you're doing in the first place.

          Back then you'd have had to prototype every single idea to see if it even had a chance of working.

          Patents, as such, do nothing but stifle innovation now. The life span of most products is 5 years at best, meaning whoever is first to the gate gets a monopoly and rakes in billions. When the patent actually expires the product is, or should be, irrelevant.

          • This is a false maxim. Innovation happened at a (relatively speaking) much faster pace before patents became the norm. The only thing protecting them were trade secrets. Which worked just fine. Patents came along to spur innovation because things like steam engines (probably a bad example, but you get the idea) were being kept as trade secrets and in order to compete you would have to develop your own from scratch.

            Patents have been around for 500 years and were one of the first acts enacted in this country after the Constitution, so I'm not sure exactly when you're referring to.

            • by suutar (1860506)
              there is a difference between "existed" and "became the norm". Until 1988 there were under 75k submissions of US origin per year, usually under 70k. Now it's more like 200-250k per year. I believe this indicates a shift in mindset that places a lot more emphasis on patents as a business tool than existed previously.
              • there is a difference between "existed" and "became the norm". Until 1988 there were under 75k submissions of US origin per year, usually under 70k. Now it's more like 200-250k per year. I believe this indicates a shift in mindset that places a lot more emphasis on patents as a business tool than existed previously.

                GDP in 1988 was $7.49 trillion, and we're up to $13.5 trillion now, and now have an information-based economy as compared to a manufacturing-based economy. I believe that justifies that growth.

                • It does not, because an information based economy is essentially a giant ponzi scheme waiting to fall over. Telecoms and software industries are all well and good, but what you refer to as an "Information Based Economy" is what its headed towards, and largely IS right now, and its exactly what isn't needed. The U.S. needs to start producing tangible products again and a big help to get that started would be to get rid of this idea of magical information that somehow has value on its own.

        • by dimko (1166489)
          companies will be forced to. After all, it takes time to copy something and that time - is advantage. Let me put it this way. Money that went or patens will go on taxes and into univercities. instead of pockets of megacorporations.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      it could be that "patent trolls" really are a drain on the economy, but this article makes no such case.

      it could be that patents really are a net benefit to the economy, but nobody makes such case.

      Why the hell should anti-patent people have to prove anything? The onus is on patent proponents to scientifically prove that the massive interference in the economy that is the "patent system" (really, just an unsystematic truthyness mess) is of net benefit in every single area of the economy where it is applie

    • by Sabriel (134364)

      Uh, "legitimate patent trolls"?

      Seriously though, has anyone ever subjected the patent system to a proper, scientifically rigorous examination of its socioeconomic optimality?

      Seems to me that it has last two fundamental flaws; it relies on "winner takes all" rewards and "obey us and suffer, or disobey us and suffer a lot more" penalties. It's about as democratic as a dictatorship, and it also seems to me that the system rapidly becomes inefficient once society's R&D resources grow beyond certain points.

      • Uh, "legitimate patent trolls"?

        I believe he's using the original definition - "non-practicing entities" or companies that exist solely for research and licensing, rather than manufacturing - as opposed to the new Slashdottian definition of "any company that I don't like who uses patents".

        Seriously though, has anyone ever subjected the patent system to a proper, scientifically rigorous examination of its socioeconomic optimality?

        Seems to me that it has last two fundamental flaws; it relies on "winner takes all" rewards and "obey us and suffer, or disobey us and suffer a lot more" penalties.

        Not really. The "winner takes all" reward only applies with regard to design patents. Otherwise, damages can be limited to reasonable royalties. It only seems like such a huge winner-takes-all when the background revenue numbers are mindbogglingly huge.

        • by Sabriel (134364)

          By "winner takes all" I meant that if you arrive at an invention independently, the law still commands you to pay any existing patent holder if you want to earn an income from your efforts.

          • By "winner takes all" I meant that if you arrive at an invention independently, the law still commands you to pay any existing patent holder if you want to earn an income from your efforts.

            Ah. That's quite reasonable. Patents aren't a reward for inventing something neat. That's what Nobel prizes and similar things are for. Patents are a payment, grudgingly made, in exchange for public disclosure. If you're not disclosing anything new to the public, or if you're a Johnny-come-lately who invents the same thing as someone else and they've already told the public about it, then why should we protect you at their expense? In fact, allowing you to simply claim "independent invention" and get out of

            • by Sabriel (134364)

              Let's take your position and try an example.

              You spend a year researching widget X. Bob on the other side of the country also spends a year researching widget X, but he starts a day before you. On Monday he patents his discovery, and begins making and selling it. On Tuesday you publish your discovery in a journal but don't patent it, since you believe it's better for society that everyone share their knowledge freely, and begin making and selling it. Unfortunately it turns out Bob is a complete selfish prick

              • Let's take your position and try an example.

                You spend a year researching widget X. Bob on the other side of the country also spends a year researching widget X, but he starts a day before you. On Monday he patents his discovery, and begins making and selling it. On Tuesday you publish your discovery in a journal but don't patent it, since you believe it's better for society that everyone share their knowledge freely, and begin making and selling it. Unfortunately it turns out Bob is a complete selfish prick, and when the two of you find out about each other, demands far more money than you can afford - and thanks to his government-issued piece of paper now nobody but him will be selling widget X (and at an exorbitant price) for the next seventeen years.

                So tell me, in such cases, how is it better for society that there be patents?

                It encouraged Bob to publish on Monday, thus enlarging the scope of public knowledge. The fact that you may or may not have done so later is irrelevant, because it was mere speculation as to whether you would. Bob, at least, is acting as a rational actor, getting payment for his contribution. You, on the other hand, are an altruist - noble, but unpredictable. Society must be pragmatic and choose the known exchange over the unknown wishing.

                Furthermore, so Bob gets a monopoly for 17 years (20 from date of fi

                • by Sabriel (134364)

                  Hmm. Good points. Or, "necessary evil" points, perhaps. Hmm. My wording might get a little rough (as in, unpolished, not rude, I hope).

                  "Bob, at least, is acting as a rational actor, getting payment for his contribution. You, on the other hand, are an altruist - noble, but unpredictable."

                  Or, from another perspective, Bob is seeking immediate personal returns by pushing back society's returns, while I am accepting lesser or no immediate personal returns by bringing forward society's returns - of which I shall

                  • Or, from another perspective, Bob is seeking immediate personal returns by pushing back society's returns, while I am accepting lesser or no immediate personal returns by bringing forward society's returns - of which I shall hopefully partake as a member. Bob's a short-term investor while I'm a long-term investor. Regarding the "unpredictable" tag, how so? You know Bob is selfish, he will go for the quick reward, you know I am altruistic, I will go for the long reward. Or are you using it in the sense that, since you can't as easily predict what I will do with a given discovery because I will attempt to consider its societal ramifications, you can't as easily take financial advantage of my actions? I don't immediately see how that's bad for society (you, perhaps, but not society)?

                    1) There's the rub... I hope you're altruistic (just as I hope Bob would be), but I don't know you are. What if you change your mind? The benefit of the Bob-exchange is that I can offer something in exchange that I believe has value, and thus try to play to his economic interests. With you, I have no leverage to entice your interests - it's just the goodness of your heart that I'm relying on.

                    2) Technically, you're not actually going for the long reward in contradistinction to Bob... While Bob gets his quic

    • First, I am no fan of patent trolls. However, both the article's headline and the slashdot headline are misleading.

      The article claims "the numbers don't lie." The "numbers" it speaks of are basically the results of a survey in which one researchers polled a few startups and asked them if patent trolls were an issue. Quite a few said yes.

      But the number is entirely without context. To use a slashdot favorite, the existence of cars also puts buggy whip manufacturers out of business and "costs them jobs." Just because something has an adverse effect on somebody's business.. or in this case somebody's potential business doesn't make it bad for the economy. in fact, taken as a whole you'd be hard pressed to find a legitimate study (not some boldrine and levine ass-pulled crapola) that suggests that patents taken as a whole are bad for an economy and for r&d - quite the opposite, taken as a whole, they're very very good. are there rough edges in patent regimes? of course. but i'd argue that patent trolls aren't really the problem. the real problem is the granting of patents unnecessarily for obvious bullshiat. if that goes away, then the sort of patent trolls that peopel complain about go away.

      i have no problem with legitimate patent trolls, by which i mean some small company has made some innovation and then sues the hell out of some large company who simply ignores the small company's prior art. too many of you on slashdot are ironically too pro big business by proposing systems by which big companies could more easily do just that. legitimate holders of worthy ideas who lack the resources to turn those ideas into products have a financial incentive to license or transfer the ideas to those who can. and if they do get treated unfairly, like the guy who made the intermittent wiper blades was, then by all means, sue sue sue.

      it could be that "patent trolls" really are a drain on the economy, but this article makes no such case. let's not forget that to somebody wanting the IP of somebody else, it's often convenient to "cry troll" and complain about all sorts of doom and gloom. i mean, darn that patent troll, oh, i dunno, porsche with their patent on some innovative brake mechanism who are keeping me from developing the next generation supercar and hiring tens of thousands of workers to develop it! if only they weren't such patent trolls hanging on to patents for the inventions that they developed!

      more likely than not, this is only so much more verbage, planted here on slashdot where most anti-IP slanted stuff, no matter how specious, gets modded +5.

      ===========
      I agree with you on one point. A small startup with a patent can sue to protect it's invention. (It is an invention that is patented. Right?). But to sell the patent to a firm whose sole business is collecting revenue by suing is what I deem a troll organization, and the way around trolling is to permanently bind the patent to the company who created it. If you want the patent, buy the company. If you want the right to use, license it. If you developed something that is similar and you did not p

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @03:37PM (#41723707)

    . . . but can litigation really fuel a whole country . . . ?

    The members of Congress might want to change this . . . except that most of them are professional lawyers.

    Oh, well.

  • by dingen (958134) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @03:40PM (#41723733)

    Patent trolls will continue to be a problem as long as the patent laws aren't revised. The trolls are merely a symptom, the laws are the cause.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There would be much fewer problems if the existing laws were actually enforced. The bulk of awarded patents don't meet the requirements demanded by the current laws. What makes you think new laws will be any different?

      • by dingen (958134)

        I'm thinking of new laws like "patents are only valid for products you actually manufacture" and "only specific implementations of ideas are patentable, not the ideas themselves". You know, stuff that actually makes sense. There is none of that going on in the US right now.

        • by Immerman (2627577) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @05:03PM (#41724173)

          "only specific implementations of ideas are patentable, not the ideas themselves" - yep that's a good one... and it's already on the books if only it would be enforced.

          As for "patents are only valid for things you manufacture" I can see two big problems with that: For one it kills "ivory tower" research patents, royalties on which often help fund further research by folks who don't care to be involved in the mundanities of bringing things to market, but are actually creating *real* innovation. For another it would create problems for those who invent something brilliant, but lack the business acumen to rapidly bring it to market - if you're talking about something that can't be readily produced in some Chinese factory it can take years or even decades to get the ball rolling - you're racing against the clock before your patent expires.

          Personally I think reverting to the original method where each patent grant required the President's signature would solve most of the problems. The guy's got enough on his plate without signing hundreds of patents a day (an average 602/day were granted in 2010) - so it would force the patent office to massively restrict the number of patents it grants, limiting them to (hopefully) only the most truly innovative andmuseful.

          • by dingen (958134)

            Perhaps the problems of the research centers and sole inventors could be solved with a license?

            The main issue with patent trolls is that they're not actually part of the industry at all, they simply buy up other people's patents and sue companies who infringe. I think it would be great if getting a patent granted would make you manufacture your invention.

            • A license to what? You are denying them the patent.

              • by dingen (958134)

                No, I'm not denying the patent, I'm making the patent invalid if the owner doesn't manufacture the patented product. This means you can get a patent for an invention before actually producing it, but if you want to sue an infringer, you have to manufacture the product yourself in order to win in court.

                • You still didn't solve the research institute problem. They would hold the patent, and never would be producing it, so they could never sue over infringement.
                  • by mdfst13 (664665)

                    How about this process:

                    1. File the patent application. The application will not be publicly viewable, but it will hold your place in line. Also, this starts the patent period and determines the expiration date.

                    2. Develop a prototype or license the patent to someone who can develop a prototype.

                    3. Notify the patent office that you now have a prototype. The patent application now becomes publicly viewable and you can enforce it.

                    If someone invents a device that would be infringing after step 1 but before

        • The supposed difference between ideas and implementations is just a useless semantic diversion promoted by patent trolls ...

    • Tell me, how do you fix these fundamental problems.

      - Absolute monopolies will always promote patent trolling (before you posit it as a solution, if they have to have a product on the market for the patent to be valid they will just do the minimum required for that ... it won't actually be good products)

      - There is no objective way to set licensing costs for non absolute monopoly patents.

      - There is no objective test possible for obviousness which doesn't just break down to prior art with a different name

    • I agree Kevin O'leary has a whole firm of lawyers thats all they do is hunt down patine issues and take them to court, if you change the law people like this will be out of business. Not to mention patents do nothing but kill innovation.
  • on stories complaining about absurd patents

    pay up slashdot

  • Grain of salt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) <marc.paradise@gma i l . c om> on Sunday October 21, 2012 @03:53PM (#41723825) Homepage Journal

    No matter how much I dislike patent trolls, I view this kind of report with the same skepticism as I view RIAA reporting how much they "lose" to piracy every year.

  • by Kohath (38547) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @04:00PM (#41723865)

    Why should anyone suddenly care about what hurts the economy?

    - Environmental trolls harm the economy by stopping commerce and development, often with zero benefit to the environment.
    - Malpractice lawsuit trolls raise the cost of health care, which is bad for the economy.
    - Government union trolls continually seek to provide fewer government services for a higher cost, which is bad for the economy.
    - Education union trolls do the same for education, which is bad for future productivity and bad for the economy.
    - Disability lawsuit trolls, who sue businesses for such evils as having signs a few inches too high or too low, cause harm to those businesses and the economy.
    - Defense appropriation trolls, who spend government money in thinly-veiled giveaways to crony companies, take money from productive enterprise and funnel it to non-productive uses. This hurts the economy.
    - The same goes for green energy grants to cronies, arts-related grants to cronies, and transportation appropriations to build vanity projects.
    - Shareholder lawsuit trolls, who sue because their stock went up or down, cause harm to businesses and the economy.
    - Race grievance trolls, who tell companies to spend their time meeting workforce racial quotas instead of producing goods and services, hurt the economy.
    - Class action lawsuit trolls, who sue for millions and then settle the lawsuits for millions of dollars for the lawyers and a $1 off coupon for their clients, hurt the economy.
    - Farm trolls, who have convinced the government to write them checks not to farm, hurt the economy.

    Clearly the patent system needs some reform to rein in the patent trolls. But what about all the rest of the trolls that hurt the economy? Can we reform them too please? Or are we all just pretending to care about the economy this time as an insincere talking point?

    • by Qzukk (229616)

      Malpractice lawsuit trolls raise the cost of health care, which is bad for the economy.

      Keep repeating it, maybe it'll turn true someday. While you wait for that day to come, read about how the state with the harshest anti-tort rules still has expensive healthcare [newyorker.com] (in McAllen, TX, healthcare spending per capita was higher than income per capita at the time of the article).

      tl;dr: When a doctor says "I have to run these tests or else I'll be sued if I miss something!" what they really mean is "I get $50 for e

      • by Kohath (38547)

        So your point is: someone is going to take the money, no matter what. (Because we're all victims who can't take care of ourselves.) Lawyers deserve the money more than doctors.

      • by gmhowell (26755)

        Malpractice lawsuit trolls raise the cost of health care, which is bad for the economy.

        Keep repeating it, maybe it'll turn true someday. While you wait for that day to come, read about how the state with the harshest anti-tort rules still has expensive healthcare [newyorker.com] (in McAllen, TX, healthcare spending per capita was higher than income per capita at the time of the article).

        tl;dr: When a doctor says "I have to run these tests or else I'll be sued if I miss something!" what they really mean is "I get $50 for each test I order. Ka-CHING!!" Yeah, Texas's doctors' malpractice insurance premiums went way down. What did they do with the savings? They bought X-Ray machines and other testing equipment so they could run MORE tests.

        Haven't read the article you linked to (relax, it's in another tab, and I'll get to it in a moment) but if that is the takeaway, it's hardly worth the effort. An internist ordering a $50 test doesn't get the money for the test. He also doesn't buy X-Ray machines. There's more, but I'll save the balance for after a read of the New Yorker article.

    • by erroneus (253617)

      At first I was going to argue against your point, but then I realized I couldn't easily do that. What you say is generally true. That said:

      - Someone should defent the environment and hold polluters accountable. There has been MUCH human suffering resulting from commercial pollution.
      - Malpractice law... I don't have experience per se, but I think malpractice is kind of bullshit. I think every doctor wants to do a good job and certainly whatever is best for the patient. Doctors are human and don't know EV

      • With malpractice one problem is that many doctors are inept. They prescribe drugs based on handouts from drug companies and act like authorities when they have little understanding of the system.

        I don't think they are purposefully inept I think we are just at the point where we have more medical knowledge then any human can learn. As we learn more we have drugs designed for specific conditions and if you assign it to a similar but different problem a lot of damage can be caused.

        We need to accept that humans

      • - Malpractice law... I don't have experience per se, but I think malpractice is kind of bullshit. I think every doctor wants to do a good job and certainly whatever is best for the patient. Doctors are human and don't know EVERYTHING.

        I'll see you your inexperience and raise you one Jayant Patel [wikipedia.org].

        (It just so happens I know people in two countries whose lives have been ruined by this man.)

    • Why should anyone suddenly care about what hurts the economy?

      Because the objective of patents has an economical nature.

      If you want the equivalent argument for, for example, environmental trolls, you'll have to show that they hurt the environment, not the economy.

    • What about all the externalized costs of many corporations and their pollutants. They get to dump pollution into the air, land and sea and don't have to pay the costs. In the end the taxpayers have to pay the costs to deal with the damage.

      Many businesses could not exist without taxpayer handouts. Those systems are also a drain on our economy. Any business that is costing us more to clean up their mess then they create in value for our economy are a loss for us.

      Do you think that coal power is really cheaper

  • Shakespeare's Dick (Score:5, Interesting)

    by some old guy (674482) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @04:10PM (#41723909)

    The character in Henry VI, not what you first thought (you insensitive clod!), was spot-on. "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

    As long as 99% of all American politicians are lawyers, and lawyers can make money from patent law, there will never be meaningful patent reform. Until enough of a voting block decides that attorneys make poor statesmen as a class and throws the lot of them out of office in favor of truly populist, honest representatives, we're stuck with what we've got.

    Patent law, civil torts, and personal injury are all areas where the Rule of Law has been perverted into the Rule of Lawyers.

    Nothing short of an electoral or economic revolution can rectify the problem.

    Any odds-making experts care to venture an estimate on that happening?

    • Ok, so you have to find a god bigger than your god to smite your god, because they are unfair. The only result will be most everyone is dead. Choose you battles
      • Aside from demonstrating a profound inability to construct a coherent sentence, you have also made the false presumption that I even have a god.

        Put down the pipe before you type.

  • Time to patent my troll fighting goat.....
  • "It used to just be speculation, but the numbers are now in — patent trolls are costing America jobs and economic growth.

    Really? Wow, let's see!

    Newly-published research using data commissioned by Congress shows big rises in patent troll activity over the last five years — from 22% to 40% of all patent suits filed, with 4 out of five litigants being patent trolls.

    Well, that's a start... it doesn't really show that trolls are "costing America jobs and economic growth," but it shows that there are a lot of trolls.

    And then suddenly we get a bunch of weasel words:

    Other papers show that jobs are being lost and startups threatened, while VC money is just making things worse by making startups waste money filing more patents. Worst of all, it's clear this is just the tip of the iceberg; there's evidence that unseen pre-lawsuit settlements with patent trolls represent a much larger threat than anything the research can easily measure."

    ... in other words, the numbers are not actually in and this is all just unsupported speculation and vague mention of uncited papers and alleged evidence.

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @05:21PM (#41724247) Homepage

    The problem with patent litigation is not whether the party doing the enforcement produces things, but whether the cost of the patent enforcement outweighs the value. The purpose of patents is to reward inventors, not manufacturers. If an inventor comes up with something novel that should be rewarded through the patent system, whether he builds a factory or licenses it to a manufacturer and continues to focus on invention does not change the worth of the patent. If he deserves to be rewarded but wishes to focus on continued invention instead of licensing, and a third party company is willing to pay him for the patent, it does not change the net value of the patent.

    What makes patents harmful is that they are too long, too strong, too easily granted, and given the presumption of validity in court. As long as that is true, harmful patents will be harmful whether they are wielded by abusive licensing agencies or anticompetitive manufacturers. It could be even worse with manufacturers, since they are not merely maximizing direct revenue from the patent but also have a financial motive to harm their competitors. Surely the mobile device patent war has shown us that merely being a manufacturer does not prevent bad patents from harming our economy.

    By focusing our disdain on those companies that specialize in patent licensing and enforcement, we are distracting ourselves from the real problems of the patents themselves. It will lead us to attempt legislation which will only prevent independent inventors from having an open market for their inventions and force them to work with incumbent manufacturers. If patents are to reward inventors, we should not narrow their markets and chain them to manufacturing. If patents are harmful, we should limit their power for everyone, including manufacturers.

  • by cas2000 (148703) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @05:30PM (#41724295)

    A troll, the modern internet variety at least, is something that is annoying but mostly harmless. Patent Trolls are anything but harmless.

    They're more like Patent Privateers - except that instead of having letters of marque to attack foreign shipping, they have letters of marque to attack local companies and any foreign company trying to do business locally.

    Worse, not satisfied with destroying their own economy, the US is repeatedly trying to extend their jurisdiction with ACTA, SOPA, so-called "Free Trade Agreements" and the like.

    Marx was right, capitalism will eat itself...and patent privateers are just one of the more obvious carnivores. The capitalist ecosystem has evolved predators and, as is common with predators, both the young and the old & tired are the easy prey.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @05:49PM (#41724395) Homepage

    Due to a court decision about ten years ago, patent holders now have to sue before they can discuss patent licensing. If you accuse someone of infringement, they can sue to have the patent invalidated, and they have some tactical advantages if they sue first. So patent holders don't send infringement letters any more. They have to start with litigation. That's the reason for the boom in litigation.

    It's a huge pain for everyone.

    • Due to a court decision about ten years ago, patent holders now have to sue before they can discuss patent licensing.
             

      Bullshit! There is no such rule.

      Its perfectly normal to discuss licensing deals before suing someone. It happens all the time between civilized companies.

      Then there are the rouge companies who refuse to even talk about licensing and sue directly - but they are hardly the norm.

      • by dkf (304284)

        Then there are the rouge companies who refuse to even talk about licensing and sue directly - but they are hardly the norm.

        But they have fabulous facial cosmetics!

  • Nah ... (Score:3, Funny)

    by golodh (893453) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @05:53PM (#41724411)
    Just a load of Liberal propaganda if you ask me.

    Everyone knows that patents allow one to monitize valuable intellectual property and that NPE's generate wealth by agressively monetizing valuable intellectual property.

    What can possibly be wrong with that? Nothing really, so there you go.

    So I don't need to see no leftie 'study' that tries to argue that right is wrong and left is right, ok? I have my own truth.

  • by BLKMGK (34057) <morejunk4me&hotmail,com> on Sunday October 21, 2012 @08:42PM (#41725191) Homepage Journal

    Think of an idea, a software package, a new widget. Now, you willing to play roulette and try to build it without first making really sure that someone isn't going to sue you? Or will you first pay lawyers to research patents? And incorporate to cover your ass? How much will you spend before you even begin to do anything with your idea? Unless you REALLY love this thing are you even going to bother? Look at the huge mountain of hassle and money in front of the pursuit of any idea, is it any wonder that so few really seem to pursue their ideas? Most of us have lives we'd like to remain somewhat sane...

  • I wonder if any of the candidates will take note of this and pledge to stop patent trolls in order to bring more jobs back...

  • ...are there copyright trolls, too? Strangely I never heard this term. Maybe because copyright does not harm big corporations like patents? Why should I care for one and not the other? 'Patent troll' is a propaganda concept of huge companies like Apple, Microsoft and others against small companies which throw a spanner in the works of their profit interests. For me as average consumer I could not care less. Or who really thinks that savings will reach the end user? The corporations just want to use inventi

    • by arth1 (260657)

      ...are there copyright trolls, too? Strangely I never heard this term. Maybe because copyright does not harm big corporations like patents? Why should I care for one and not the other?

      You haven't heard of Righthaven and Andrew Crossley, just two examples?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...make it where, if you wish to enforce a patent, you MUST have developed AND RELEASED (e.g. actively selling) a product/whatever OR have licensed the patent to someone who is selling a product within say, 3 years of the patent being granted. If you do not, then the patent expires. If you do, then the patent remains valid for 4 more years (or some arbitrary amount of time), then the patent expires.

    Problem solved.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The problem could be fixed in either the courts or congress if we had a strategy of what to do.

    Possible directions:

    There is a mismatch between how easy it is to get a patent and presumption of validity when you get to court.
    It would help a lot if the court was more skeptical and required the owner of the patent to prove it was unique, useful, non-obvious, and that the person who patented the gadget either had implemented it or at least had the ability to implement it at the time of issue. Th

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