Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
east texas, patent troll



Judge Bans The Term 'Patent Troll' -- And The History Of Patent Sharking...

from the not-in-my-courtroom dept

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm no fan of the phrase "patent trolls," though it sometimes does serve a useful purpose. It does seem unnecessarily biasing -- and without a clear definition many people jump to the use of the phrase when it's really not appropriate. Thus, it should come as little surprise to hear that a judge (in East Texas, of course) has told a defendant he may not refer to the plaintiff suing him as a "patent troll." This actually is quite reasonable for a variety of reasons. Obviously, the term has extremely negative connotations without a clear definition, opening it up to serious misuse. Also, there isn't anything illegal about being a patent troll anyway (yet). It is bad for innovation and it's bad for the patent system -- but the reason such actions are so popular is that, for the most part, they are perfectly (if ridiculously) legal. With that in mind, focusing on name calling clearly isn't the best way to get out of the lawsuit. Still, it is rather amusing that things would reach such a level that this would even merit a judge ruling on the term.

Speaking of what to call folks who buy up dormant patents and then use them to sue actual practitioners, a friend just sent me a fascinating research paper looking at an eerie parallel to patent fights in the 19th century, when so-called "patent sharks" (seriously) bought up a bunch of dormant patents on farm equipment and then went around suing farmers who were unknowingly infringing. Yes, the similarities are striking. In fact, the parallels go even further. Right before this happened, there had been some changes in what the patent office considered patentable (just as business models and software have only recently been considered patentable). Also, other industries outside the farm equipment industry fought back to prevent any real patent reform from being enacted -- just as others outside the tech industry are now fighting against today's patent reform. Based on all of this, the paper recommends that history teaches us the way to get rid of patent trolls is the same way that the government got rid of patent sharks: get rid of the patents they prey on -- meaning (in this case) getting rid of software and business model patents.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. icon
    chris (profile), 16 Oct 2007 @ 7:07am

    the legal basis for the term troll

    in the case "gruff, gruff, and gruff vs. troll" the term troll was clearly defined as a someone who "impedes the progress of another for the sole purpose of profit".

    for those of you unfamiliar with the case, the gruff brothers (tree of them) mr. troll sought to exact a toll for crossing a bridge that for which his property rights were unclear.

    not only was the patent case thrown out of court, mr troll was also thrown off his bridge and into the creek by the eldest brother gruff.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.