Lemelson's Legacy: Great Inventor Or Patent Hoarder?
from the take-your-pick dept
It seems like we can barely go a day without coming across some story of ridiculous patent hoarding by a company that clearly didn't do anything innovative or new, but which is holding plenty of other companies (who actually did innovate and did bring a product to market) for ransom. If you ask the folks at these patent hoarding companies (often made up entirely of one or two lawyers) where they got the idea for this business plan, many would likely point to Jerome Lemelson, the well known patenter who turned those patents into millions of dollars from companies. The Associated Press has an in-depth look at Jerome Lemelson's legacy, and the fact that many consider him a complete fraud. Throughout the entire process of getting plenty of large companies to pay him for ideas that it seems quite likely they came up with outside of Lemelson's patents, he kept pushing forward claiming he needed to win these lawsuits to get the respect he deserved. It's hard to see how sitting on the sidelines, waiting for someone else to do something innovative, and then suing is deserving of respect, however. As you read through the cases, it seems clear that Lemelson's strategy is being followed by so many companies today, as a form of legalized extortion. Companies feel they need to pay up a settlement fee because it's cheaper than going to court, especially with the risk of a loss -- which, with a jury trial, is something that can certainly happen. In Lemelson's case, even judges looking over his claims admitted that it was clear he was "abusing" the patent system -- and yet, his successes have made it the norm today. Lemelson's patents were often based simply on ideas, rather than anything he implemented -- leading one of his critics to refer to him as a "science fiction writer" rather than an inventor, and claiming that "crediting Lemelson with machine vision is like 'saying Jules Verne invented space travel.'"