The Patent Pledge: Good Idea... But Wrong Target

from the it's-a-start dept

Paul Graham's latest brainstorm is (as per usual) pretty thought provoking. He's put together an idea called The Patent Pledge in which companies agree that they'll never first assert a patent against a company with less than 25 employees. A small group of companies have already agreed to the pledge. Though, as he notes, there's nothing binding about the pledge and the terms of the pledge are intentionally vague.

The bigger issue is that it seems like this pledge may be targeted at exactly the wrong group on both sides of the pledge. First off, the companies signing it tend to be startups who aren't asserting any patents against anyone anyway. Second, when startups of less than 25 people are getting sued for infringement, it's pretty frequently by small trolls, who have no business but suing (or threatening to sue), and who would never sign such a pledge. I don't think we're going to see Lodsys or Kootol sign up for something like this ever, and no amount of shame is going to make them care about it.

Right now the big problem with patents tends to be more focused on the trolls who are suing and the bigger, older tech companies who are moving away from innovation and into a "protecting" mode with a big pile of patents.

Still, I do like the general idea of figuring out ways to put more societal pressure on companies not to sue innovative companies over patents, but I'm not entirely sure if this idea, as set forth, is the best way to do it. In fact, the other issue with this is that I could even see scenarios under which this makes things worse -- in that a patent holder who signed such a pledge could just wait until a company has more employees... and then can claim it can demand a much bigger award for infringement, since the company has been benefiting from the fruits of infringement for longer.

However, I'm curious if anyone has idea on how to improve on such a pledge, to see how it might be made more effective.

Filed Under: patent pledge, patents


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  1. identicon
    Felix Pleșoianu, 1 Sep 2011 @ 10:01pm

    Good idea? Bwahaha

    Actually, it's a terrible idea. A corporation's promises aren't worth squat. Google's "Don't be evil"? They stopped respecting that promise a long time ago. And remember when Amazon remotely deleted books from their customers' Kindles? After the scandal, they promised not to do it again... and then promptly did. And what happened to Sun's policy to not sue other companies over patents once they were, you know, bought out?

    No, #5 is right. Only a legal solution will fix this mess, and Paul Graham is being surprisingly naive in this issue.

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