You have to wonder how many times fans of the patent system have to repeat the mantra that "patents encourage innovation" before they can actually believe it. There continues to be new evidence on nearly a daily basis of patents doing the exact opposite that it's hard to believe the patent system retains as many supporters as it does. The latest is that a ton of patent holders are preparing to sue over various VoIP-related patents, following the news of Verizon's big win over Vonage for VoIP patents. The problem, of course, is that tons of companies (some big, some small) all claim patents on various aspects of VoIP -- creating the very definition of the "patent thicket." That is, there are so many patents around the very concept of VoIP that no one company can actually afford to offer a VoIP service, since the cost to license all the patents is simply too prohibitive. Expect plenty more lawsuits in the near future as this all comes out in court. The big players will use their patents to keep out competition, and the small players will use the patents to try to create an NTP-style lottery ticket. The lawyers will all win -- but consumers who just want to use VoIP will lose big time. What's wrong with letting companies simply compete in the marketplace and letting the natural forces of competition encourage innovation? Instead, we get patent holders trying to hold back competition and hold back innovation.
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