Seeing as we were just talking about claims from a patent attorney that no legitimate VCs can be against software patents
, it's good to see that one of the most respected VC firms in internet-related issues, Union Square Ventures has come out strongly in favor of an independent invention defense against patent infringement
. This is great. I have no idea if I helped to make this come about, but a year ago, Union Square partner Fred Wilson had spoken out
about how patents were harming his portfolio, and suggested some ways to fix the system (not including an independent invention defense). I responded with a post suggesting he consider an independent invention defense
beyond his proposals, as it would really solve a lot of the problems. So it's really fantastic to see the firm take a stand on such an important issue -- proving once again what a lie it is to claim that VCs require patents. From Union Square partner Brad Burnham's post:
Almost a third of our portfolio is under attack by patent trolls. Is it possible that one third of the engineering teams in our portfolio unethically misappropriated technology from someone else and then made that the basis of their web services? No! That's not what is happening. Our companies are driven by imaginative and innovative engineering teams that are focused on creating social value by bringing innovative new services to market.
Our companies are being attacked by companies that were not even in the same market, very often by companies they did not even know existed....
I know of no case where the engineers in one of our companies were aware of the patents that are now being used to attack them. The moral rightness of this screams at me. If, as an engineer focused on solving a problem, I happened to come up with an idea that is in some way similar to yours, then that in itself should suggest that it was obvious and not patentable. Unfortunately, that does not really help. There, the burden of proof is still on the startup and it is still smarter to settle than to burn precious capital on a defense.
If, on the other hand, the troll was required to show the startup had some prior knowledge of their technology, the burden would be shifted to the attacker, and this blatant abuse would come to a grinding halt. If you believe as I do that innovation is key to social progress, please support patent reform. It is a complicated issue, but an independent invention defense is an obvious place to start.
It's really difficult to see how anyone can be intellectually honest with themselves and not be in favor of an independent invention defense. It's difficult to see how anyone could justify the idea that even if someone comes up with something totally independently, they can't use their own inventions.