Last week, in writing about Paul Allen's decision to sue (nearly) every big tech company
south of Seattle (notably absent: Microsoft and Amazon), I had seen a few people suggest that maybe Allen was doing this to prove how ridiculous the patent system is. Larry Downes is now exploring that option
in a blog post on his site:
Maybe Allen is not the world's most famous patent troll. Maybe he's out to become the world's most famous patent reformer. Maybe he doesn't want so much to win as to publicize how dangerous his patents are.
Perhaps in asserting these patents, with their potential to unsettle so much of what is taken as settled business practices in the digital economy, he hopes to force leading tech companies and Congress to acknowledge that the system is broken and fix it. If he wins, or even if he just wears down the other side, perhaps he'll demand not financial tribute but actual reform of a system that gives patent holders like him the power to disrupt digital life.
I don't buy it. There are, obviously, lots of ways to go about pushing for patent reform, but dragging a bunch of companies and yourself through the court system seems like one of the least effective ways to go about doing so. Even if it does call attention to ridiculous patents and how they're used to punish companies who actually innovate, the message is so likely to be lost that I would imagine the chance for any such strategy to succeed is outweighed by the far greater likelihood that the strategy will backfire and actually be seen as a reason to support patents.