The Story Behind This American Life's 'When Patents Attack'

from the backstory dept

I had the pleasure this week of being on KUER's RadioWest program talking about the patent system. However, the much more interesting part of the show is the first segment (without me), which features Alex Blumberg and Laura Sydell, the two reporters who did the amazing "When Patents Attack!" report for This American Life earlier this year which received so much attention and has helped drive more mainstream recognition of the problems with today's patent system.

Alex and Laura, with the help of host Doug Fabrizio, go through the backstory behind the "When Patents Attack!" episode, discussing how Alex originally intended it to be a short segment on this crazy idea of "patent trolls," with the idea of having a patent troll discuss why they do what they do. But, from there, the story kept getting more interesting -- especially after Intellectual Ventures simply could not credibly point to a single situation in which they'd helped to better society by helping bring new products to life or even of any inventors who they'd helped, beyond just getting their patents into litigation. It's a fascinating story in part because of how it developed, and how the deeper these two reporters dug into the subject, the less and less the patent system made sense. One telling point in the discussion is when Laura points out that so many of the people they talked to who defended the system never seemed to be able to credibly explain the larger picture. Instead, they were just focused on the narrow "trees" rather than the full "forest." And that, of course, is because they're making money off those trees, and the concerns for the fact that they're cutting down the larger forest are ignored.

I'm reminded of the famous Upton Sinclair quote:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
Laura had to leave around the 26 minute mark, at which point I got to join the discussion and discuss some of the history around the patent system, and how little the patent system actually has to do with innovation. There were a variety of topics we covered, and I was tempted to dig deeper on each and every one of them -- especially Alex's brief discussion of James Bessen's work about patents and pharmaceuticals, which is an entirely different debate than tech-related patents, but no less troubling. However, in the interest of time and keeping the show flowing I tried to keep the comments as straightforward and simple as possible. Either way it was fun to be on the show and I enjoyed talking with Doug and Alex about the patent system... and was happy that the problems of the patent system are continuing to get more mainstream news attention.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Pwdrskir (profile), Oct 4th, 2011 @ 7:14pm

    Pod Cast

    Here is a link to listen to the show, enjoy.

    http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kuer/news.newsmain/article/184/0/1858723/RadioWest.
    M-F ..11AM..and..7PM)/10311.When.Patents.Attack!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Oct 4th, 2011 @ 8:12pm

    You totally fumbled "whether this mess can be fixed"?

    Yes: require a working physical model for all patents. Easy to implement, removes all software and methods from consideration, along with resolves the mutiple devices problem. You don't have to credit me, since if you knew anything of history in this area, the Patent Office required such until early 20th C, as I recall.

    But, because tangled up in complexities, you fumbled it, left all unresolved, on a low note.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2011 @ 8:26pm

    Hey Mike, you are back up to "troubling"... life must really suck when all this stuff troubles you so much. I get the picture of you walking down the street mumbling to yourself, all troubled by the world around you.

    Too bad the radio thing was entirely one sided, and an open invitation for you to spout of your usual nonsense.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2011 @ 8:33pm

    Re:

    Can you please come up with some new trolling? This old material is getting stale.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    VMax, Oct 4th, 2011 @ 8:55pm

    Re: Pod Cast

    Thank you very much sir.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    JMT (profile), Oct 4th, 2011 @ 8:57pm

    "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

    This is so true of many of the Anonymous Cowards that comment here. See above for a good example.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    VMax, Oct 4th, 2011 @ 9:02pm

    Re: You totally fumbled "whether this mess can be fixed"?

    Apologies to all for feeding obvious troll; but as a software engineer, it's easy to create. As far as hardware; if you can't really build it, it's not worthy of a patent. On a brighter note, I hear your time travel patent is going to be granted soon. Good luck with trolling Ben Franklin.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2011 @ 9:18pm

    Re:

    My picture of you is different a bit, you are in a mental institution and refusing to leave the room because you are afraid of the door.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILmjvmsExNQ

    Gary get tha fock out of the room!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2011 @ 9:20pm

    Re: Re:

    Why don't you ask to join one of these shows or to join a public debate about the subject. Oh, that's right, IP maximists are afraid to debate critics.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100727/23070310388.shtml
    http://www.techdirt.com/art icles/20100811/13244810588.shtml

    They close the comment sections of their blog while Techdirt keeps the comment sections open. We welcome both sides, but the mainstream media only presents one side because they know that their side is indefensible in the face of criticism.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100727/10432810380.shtml

    http://www.techdirt.com /articles/20101005/12204511290/why-won-t-universal-music-let-you-see-the-20-20-report-from-1980-abou t-how-the-music-industry-is-dying.shtml

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110917/01472315992/nyc nbcuniversal-pro-copyright-propaganda-contest-school-kids-facts-not-allowed-your-rights-dont-count.s html

    As the show points out, they tried to talk to IP maximists and patent trolls to try to discuss the issue. I'm sure they would be more than glad to have you on the show. Mike is not anonymous, yet you are (and there is nothing wrong with being anonymous). If you want to present your side of the issue, you're welcome to it. No one is stopping you.

    But all you're doing is complaining that the podcast is one sided without presenting an alternative side. No IP maximists want to go on the podcast to debate the issue with critics, because they're too afraid. The show tried to talk to IP apologists to get their side, and they refused. Just like the IP trolls here on Techdirt. All they do is complain, they never present their side. Perhaps they don't have one.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2011 @ 9:21pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    (sorry, I meant to respond to the AC that you responded to).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2011 @ 9:23pm

    Re:

    Here is another mental picture for ya.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_y6Hz-IDJw0

    You as an old bastard getting slapped silly.

    Yay!

    Isn't the interwebs gr8?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Oct 4th, 2011 @ 11:03pm

    Re:

    Are you an idiot? I have to ask as the patent system, in its current form, is so bugfuck crazy it's not even funny anymore.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2011 @ 11:35pm

    at 11:18 is priceless.
    30% of all US inventions are actually granted on existing things like the bread refreshing method(aka toaster)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2011 @ 1:19am

    Re:

    Gotta love a nice tall glass of bread

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2011 @ 4:33am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Sorry, but when you self-quote yourself, you should at least log in when you post.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2011 @ 4:34am

    Re:

    It is possibly the most dismissive line ever posted on Techdirt. It's the simple way to ignore the other side's ideas and opinions, by claiming they are paid to be wrong.

    Don't fall for this bullshit, it's Mike's way of trying to shut down the opposition.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Oct 5th, 2011 @ 4:44am

    The quality of trolling around here sure has taken a nose dive lately. In the past, the trolls attempted to make a point or even discuss an issue - not any more. Maybe that has been outsourced too.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    techflaws.org (profile), Oct 5th, 2011 @ 5:52am

    Re:

    life must really suck when all this stuff troubles you so much

    Right, so if his writings trouble you so much, why do you come here?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Oct 5th, 2011 @ 6:35am

    Re: Re:

    Pot...kettle.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2011 @ 7:17am

    Re: Re:

    Actually the AC's I'm referring to don't bring the other side's ideas and opinions, and seem quite incapable of having a mature, reasoned debate. Instead all they offer are snarky and repetitive insults or lame little digs like yours above. Nobody wants to shut down the opposition, at least not here where the comments are always open.

    Perhaps i should amend my comment and say that this is so true of many of the Anonymous Cowards that comment here lately. There's been a definite increase in the FUD/broadbrush/slimy/chubby crap that I hope you aren't claiming is your side of the "debate". It's hard to believe this isn't coming from people with vested interests.

    Feel free to prove me wrong. We'd all be better off if I were.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    JMT (profile), Oct 5th, 2011 @ 7:19am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Oops, didn't realise I wasn't signed in.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Oct 5th, 2011 @ 8:50am

    Re:

    Chinese trolls are stealing our jobs!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2011 @ 9:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Where did I self quote myself?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2011 @ 9:09am

    Re: Re: Re:

    and the above does not mention the fact that the government established mainstream media cartel won't even allow IP critics to present their viewpoints. MM has said before that he'll go on public television to discuss these matters with IP maximists, so that the mainstream television can give a 'balanced' view, yet the mainstream television will never allow IP critics the opportunity to discuss their side of the debate. They want to present only one side of the debate. Yet we allow IP maximists to present their side of the debate on our forums.

    The laws themselves are one sided (in favor of IP), and so is the government.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2011 @ 9:10am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Why don't you log in?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2011 @ 9:16am

    Re: Re:

    "It's the simple way to ignore the other side's ideas and opinions"

    No one is ignoring your opinion, it's simply that we have yet to see you present one, along side an attempt to defend it with any sort of logic or evidence.

    I can simply present the opinion that "the moon is made of cheese". That's not good enough. I need facts, evidence, logic, etc... to reasonably convince anyone. IP maximists have failed to present anything. Heck, they often won't even present an opinion, all they present are a bunch of FUD like your post.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Oct 5th, 2011 @ 11:08am

    Re: Re: Re:

    OMG it's the two-man Schlonghook!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Oct 5th, 2011 @ 11:11am

    Re: Re:

    Go have a look at the banking regulations in the US.

    Wait! Regulation? In my financial system?

    BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Pull the other one, it's got economies on.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Oct 5th, 2011 @ 11:19am

    Re: Re:

    Are they called Lung Xin Wa?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2011 @ 5:32pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    What is an "IP maximist"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    staff, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 9:42am

    another biased article

    "Alex Blumberg and Laura Sydell"

    All they exposed was their ignorance of patents. The title to a patent has nothing to do with what it covers.

    Masnick and his monkeys have an unreported conflict of interest-
    https://www.insightcommunity.com/cases.php?n=10&pg=1

    They sell blog filler and "insights" to major corporations including MS, HP, IBM etc. who just happen to be some of the world’s most frequent patent suit defendants. Obviously, he has failed to report his conflicts as any reputable reporter would. But then Masnick and his monkeys are not reporters. They are patent system saboteurs receiving funding from huge corporate infringers. They cannot be trusted and have no credibility. All they know about patents is they don’t have any.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This