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Ask Slashdot: When Is Patent License Trading Not Trolling? 191

LeadSongDog writes "A piece in yesterday's Forbes offers arguments on why not all 'Non-Practicing Entities' are 'Patent Trolls.' Comments here on such businesses are often critical. Is there a right way to trade in patents for profit without abusing the process?" From the article: "The Founders’ decision to foster non-practicing entities and patent licensing proved crucial to America’s rapid technological progress and economic growth. Patent records from the nineteenth century reveal that more than two-thirds of all the great inventors of the Industrial Revolution, including Thomas Edison and Elias Howe, were non-practicing entities who focused on invention and licensed some or all of their patents to others to develop into new products."
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Ask Slashdot: When Is Patent License Trading Not Trolling?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @01:58PM (#44885799)

    This, this, a hundred times this.

    One example I can think of is in the salt water aquarium hobby, particularly the reefkeeping segment. Some stupid patent examiner let a patent get through that covers lighting for saltwater aquaria that incorporates a timer and LEDs. 'Cause, you know, replacing frakking fluoros or HID lights with LEDs and sticking a timer in it's 'non-obvious' or some crap. Sued several emergent companies out of business, while not actually producing a product.

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @01:59PM (#44885809)

    Until 1880 this was not a problem.

    Up until that point, there was a requirement of production of a working model, also known as a Reduction To Practice. After 1880, you could patent whatever, and get away with never having produced anything other than the speculation that your idea might be reduced to practice using some future engineering or technical ability which did not exist at the date of filing.

    One common alternative method of patent reform is to bring back this requirement, and to place the model in escrow. In the limit, this permits future study of the model, whether it be hardware, or a process patent for software. This would incidentally remove patent protection from soft processes, such as business model process patents, which people tend to find very objectionable as abuses of the patent system.

  • by gnupun ( 752725 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @02:25PM (#44886071)
    Wrong, you're twisting their words. This is what they say:

    This is what some media commentators ignore when they try to tar all non-practicing entities with the same brush as abusive patent trolls.

    NPEs (non-practicing entities) are people who don't manufacture products based on their patents, they just license the patents. Patent trolls are a subset of NPEs who abuse the patent system by blackmailing the public and companies with obvious, non-innovative and/or overly broad patents. The point being, not all NPEs and their patents are evil.

  • by tgd ( 2822 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @02:29PM (#44886117)

    I would go without the "if you didn't create it." I've yet to find a single patent case that wasn't trolling.

    If you get your "news" from stories on Slashdot, that would make sense. All you see on here is the fringe ridiculous cases, and the high profile games played between multinational corporations using patent portfolios as pawns. The vast majority of patents do exactly what they're supposed to do, and the vast majority of patents are licensed fairly and appropriately.

  • by amaurea ( 2900163 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @03:57PM (#44887117) Homepage

    Patents slowing down progress by discouraging use and hindering competitors is not new, but has been going on since the beginning of the patent system. The beginning chapter of Against Intellectual Monopoly [] details the case of the steam engine, where progress in efficiency and adoption of the steam engine was effectively halted for the duration of Watt's patents, only to take off right after they expired.

    Once Watt’s patents were secured and production started, a substantial portion of his energy was devoted to fending off rival inventors. In 1782, Watt secured an additional patent, made “necessary in consequence of ... having been so unfairly anticipated, by [Matthew] Wasborough in the crank motion.” More dramatically, in the 1790s, when the superior Hornblower engine was put into production, Boulton and Watt went after him with the full force of the legal system. During the period of Watt’s patents the U.K. added about 750 horsepower of steam engines per year. In the thirty years following Watt’s patents, additional horsepower was added at a rate of more than 4,000 per year. Moreover, the fuel efficiency of steam engines changed little during the period of Watt’s patent; while between 1810 and 1835 it is estimated to have increased by a factor of five. After the expiration of Watt’s patents, not only was there an explosion in the production and efficiency of engines, but steam power came into its own as the driving force of the industrial revolution. Over a thirty year period steam engines were modified and improved as crucial innovations such as the steam train, the steamboat and the steam jenny came into wide usage. The key innovation was the high-pressure steam engine – development of which had been blocked by Watt’s strategic use of his patent.

    The above is just a short section, they go through the case very thoroughly (with references), and it is worth a read. Interestingly, the steam engine is often quoted by patent proponents as an example of patents working like they are supposed to.

  • Re:Thomas Edison (Score:5, Informative)

    by suutar ( 1860506 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @04:12PM (#44887323)
    Edison is known to have attempted to use the power of his patents to suppress behavior he didn't like making him possibly the earliest known troll. That's why the movie industry cranked up in Hollywood CA; it was far enough from Edison to avoid enforcement of his patents on motion picture cameras/projectors.

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