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.

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  1. identicon
    Jim Nourse, 17 Oct 2007 @ 7:33am

    "troll" is too mild

    I like what Joe stated. That these monsters are nothing more than extortionists on the same par with the old big-city Mafiosa's of the past (and some in the present) that would terrorize ligitimate small businesses by demanding protection money. The only difference is that, instead of hiding behind corrupt city governments, these hide behind a massive corrupt legal system perpetrated by thousand of filty corrupt lawyers who stand to gain even more from the victims of there extortion.

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