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How Patent Trolls Destroy Innovation 97

walterbyrd sends this story from Vox: Everyone agrees that there's been an explosion of patent litigation in recent years, and that lawsuits from non-practicing entities (NPEs) — known to critics as patent trolls — are a major factor. But there's a big debate about whether trolls are creating a drag on innovation — and if so, how big the problem is. A new study (PDF) by researchers at Harvard and the University of Texas provides some insight on this question. Drawing from data on litigation, R&D spending, and patent citations, the researchers find that firms that are forced to pay NPEs (either because they lost a lawsuit or settled out of court) dramatically reduce R&D spending: losing firms spent $211 million less on R&D, on average, than firms that won a lawsuit against a troll. "After losing to NPEs, firms significantly reduce R&D spending — both projects inside the firm and acquiring innovative R&D outside the firm," the authors write. "Our evidence suggests that it really is the NPE litigation event that causes this decrease in innovation."
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How Patent Trolls Destroy Innovation

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @05:30AM (#47710601)

    Fixed that for you.

    "Patent trolls" is a propaganda term. It implies that there's a right and wrong way to own patents. In reality it's just that: Owning patents. Patents are a monopoly on ideas. That's the problem.

  • Well yes and no, patent protects innovation because you have a monopoly on your idea. Then up to you to make other researches on new products with the money gained.
    But if you use a patent, you're forced to reveal your idea and prepare your competitor to use it later. You're never forced to patent your idea tho (see Coca-Cola, never patented, receipt never given).

  • by EEPROMS ( 889169 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @06:08AM (#47710727)
    you need to fix your history line so it should correctly read, under Bush Jr the economy tanked then Obama got into power. I don't support Obama but I do hate it when people try to re-write history.
  • Re:Cry More (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AC-x ( 735297 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @06:35AM (#47710813)

    Patents are supposed to protect specific implementations, not vague ideas. If I patent a widget making machine, someone else can build a different machine that makes widgets in a different way and that's fine. Software patents are the equivalent of patenting the idea of a machine that makes widgets.

  • by Cenan ( 1892902 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @06:38AM (#47710819)

    patent protects innovation

    Citation needed.

  • by AC-x ( 735297 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @06:40AM (#47710829)

    Well, to me it's a combination of how patents are used and the fact too many vague, overly broad and (in the case of software) patents on general ideas rather than specific implementations are granted.

    If less nonsense patents were approved, or if there was a second class of patents (for software etc) that had an extremely short term, most of the problems of patent trolling would go away.

    There's nothing wrong with an inventor being able to protect an actual physical invention (without protected you'll be immediately priced out by cheap knock-offs), but no-one should be able to protect just a vague idea.

  • by Begemot ( 38841 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @06:50AM (#47710861)

    Patents are a monopoly on ideas

    That's also a propaganda term. The patent system is flawed but not as much as you imply. You can only patent an idea that's not obvious and novel, which means you need to invest a significant amount of talent, time and money in order to develop this idea. Many people expect some protection of their investment in developing their ideas.

    The question is in what would incentivize inventors more, the patent system or the lack of it. I don't see a clear answer to this question.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:29AM (#47710999)

    In the case of the drug industry, the problem could be easily fixed by requiring each business which wants to sell a drug to perform and document the studies to prove that their formulation is safe and effective. No "theirs is safe, so ours is too". That would have the added benefit of verifying scientific results through replication, and it would give the original innovator time to recoup their investment.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:31AM (#47711009)

    If I get the idea for a new valve design that uses some obscure property of gasoline to make direct injection engines five percent more efficient then I deserve to be rewarded for that

    No you don't, and that's not what the patent system is for.

    If you get the idea for a new valve design, and then go on to develop the valve in a way suitable for mass production, and then start a business selling those valves, then you deserve not to be undercut by rivals who just copy your design and go straight to market without having first paid the R&D costs. That's all you deserve. You don't automatically deserve for your business to succeed regardless of other commercial factors, and you certainly don't deserve money just for having an idea. Ideas are cheap, it's R&D that costs money.

    And that is how the patent system is broken, because it directly rewards ideas and not development effort. The positive outcome of the system is just a side-effect of how the system works. The whole system needs refactoring so that it directly achieves the goals above within an ethical framework that acknowledges the value of straightforward hard work over simple ideas. This would mean that a patent troll with nothing more than an idea can't walk all over a company that had the same idea and then spend $10m developing it into a commercial product.

  • by ThePromenader ( 878501 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:36AM (#47711027) Homepage Journal

    Hm, I don't quite agree. I think a 'use it or lose it' condition on patent claims would be both protective and productive. Oh, and I'd like to see that ideal applied to cybersquatters and their ilk, too.

  • who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AndyKron ( 937105 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:46AM (#47711055)
    Why should I start a business when at any time a troll could come by with some vague patent, and sue me? Fuck this country, and fuck the government.
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:59AM (#47711107)

    I think the problem with the Patent system isn't the idea of patents, but some factors that need to have them adjusted.

    1. Patent Lifetime. 20 years is much too long in the technology industry. As technology is improving at an exponential rate. 20 years to hold onto a patents means by the time the patient expires, the technology is so old and out of date that it isn't useful any more. Back in the old days 20 years was enough for someone to get it in the market and make a good living off of it. When it was over then you can get others using it.

    2. Too many obvious patents. Especially in software, We code new and interesting stuff every day, as our programs are meant to solve a new problem. Software patents should be reserved for some really ingenious stuff. Like advanced algorithms that the average coder will go, you know I might as well just download the library and implement vs having to figure it out myself and probably not have it work as well.

    3. Lack of a good Non-Patent Protection legal mechanism. There isn't a way to register your idea officially, while not having the patent overhead, and if someone patents the same idea you can use your registration to prove yours is legit.

  • by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:38PM (#47714167) Journal

    Be happy. The universe is not structured that way. Copying happens all the time in nature. Billions and billions of bacteria create copies of themselves every day. Events that generate light or sound radiate faithful copies of energy in many directions and also can generate echoes. One person can address a crowd of thousands, and radio stations can broadcast one signal to millions, because nature does work that way.

    The insanity is the direction we tried to take ideas. We've tried to treat ideas like they're gold. Try to hoard them, try to demarcate and issue certificates of ownership. Tried to apply the logic of material ownership to the immaterial. Many people have fallen for the oversimplification, and have bought the lines that "property is property" and "stealing is stealing". But those pesky ideas just won't stay safely locked up. Someone else might get the same idea without ever breaking into the vault. The people who are regularly appalled and unhappy that vaults don't protect ideas are fools. That DRM exists and has been forced into so many products agasint the wishes of people who know better, is a testament to the large numbers of people who have failed to grasp this aspect of nature. The universe is a better place because ideas can't be locked up. It's the fools who have tried mightily to make patents and copyrights work who are struggling against reality. They're fighting an unwinnable battle. They will eventually lose, but until that day comes, they continue to cause a lot of waste, grief, and damage.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.