Say That Again

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
erich spangenberg, patent troll, patents

Interview With A Patent Troll... Which Skips The Key Questions

from the leaving-out-some-of-the-details dept

Aaron Martin-Colby points us to Good Magazine's softball interview with Erich Spangenberg, considered by many to be one of the more successful "patent trolls" or "non-practicing entities" out there. The interview is a huge disappointment, though, as the interviewer basically only gives a superficial hearing to the reasons why Spangenberg is causing tremendous harm, and instead tries to paint him as a "Robin Hood" figure, taking money from super wealthy companies (she leaves out the "distributing it to the poor" part, because, you know, that doesn't actually happen). She ignores the economic arguments (which are long and quite detailed) of how much harm such activities do to the economy by shifting resources from actually making stuff to just transferring money around to lawyers.

But worst of all, the article presents Spangenberg as always being right and always having big companies settle (or that he wins his cases). You would think that any profile on Spangenberg would include little facts like that he was caught shuffling patents around in order to sue companies multiple times over the same patent -- despite a settlement promising not to. Doing so eventually cost Spangenberg $4 million. Robin Hood? Or how about his attempts to stretch what highly questionable patents cover? For example, patent 5,493,490, which covers a system for making electronic proposals to buy cars (which, yes, you would think seems obvious enough, but what do you know?), which Spangenberg is asserting against dozens of companies who don't sell cars, but do sell other stuff online.

The problem isn't that there are people who sue without ever making stuff (even though that's what some claim). The problem is that the patents are ridiculous and never should have been granted. Giving someone a total monopoly on an invention (and, despite claims to the contrary, in reality, patents do cover "ideas" not just inventions) should only be granted in extreme circumstances. Yet, the Patent Office hands them out like lollipops to children at times. But, unfortunately, this interview doesn't get into any of that. The reporter seems swept off her feet by Spangenberg bragging about his wealth and who he knows, and doesn't bother to ask any of the important questions.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Me, Jun 30th, 2009 @ 2:19pm

    Yawn. More of the usual. No one is surprised.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2009 @ 3:35pm

    "Swept off her feet..."? That's a bit sexist, don't you think? I think it's more likely that the entire interview was bought and paid for by Spangenberg...

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

  3. identicon
    Spankenburg, Jun 30th, 2009 @ 6:28pm

    Here is a really good patent

    A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct.

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

  4. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 30th, 2009 @ 6:49pm


    That's a bit sexist, don't you think?

    How so? If it were a male reporter, I would have said "swept off his feet."

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

  5. identicon
    ulle53, Jul 1st, 2009 @ 12:58am

    reply to #3

    When I was in grade school a teacher had a class project, we taped the lense of a flash light leaving a tiny hole then bouncing the light dot around a dim room while a cat chased it, works really great with a group of kittens. Now this was back in the middle 1950's so would this not be considered prior art?

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 11:12am

    Re: reply to #3

    nope you were violating a patent, now what school did you say you were? I feel a cash infusion coming on. I'm like Robin Hood you know. This brings to mind a quote "All men are heroes in their own story"

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

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