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
    darryl, 2 Sep 2011 @ 8:21pm

    Stupid Idea - fundamental economic changes - different rules for different people.

    The number of employees a company has, has very little or nothing to do with turnover, profit or any aspects of the law.

    It is 'directly' employed, or indirectly employed, could the CEO of 24 of the largest tech companies on the planet form a shell company and directly employ only 24 people, but indirectly employ thousands of others in manufacturing and distribution ?

    so if you are a 'small' business you get to play by a different set of rules as the other businesses that actually employ people and create products of substance ?

    "oh it's too hard for us to run a business under the existing laws, (allthough lots of other people can do it fine) we are just not good enough so we need to be able to steal off others to employ our couple of dozen people at the expense of a company that is employing 10's of thousands of workers".

    Thats just stupid...
    If you are not big enough or not good enough to enivate your own designs then live with it, either get out of the industry and do something else or STFU.... ..


    What would be better (and actually possible) would be if a small company (or any company) can prove and show that a company that holds a particular patent is 'sitting on it' and not employing that patent in active products then the first company could have the right to challenge the ownership of said patent, and be able to 'sub-licence' that patent if they can show they are willing and ABLE to utilize that patent in a product for profit.

    That would at least ensure that people do not 'sit on' patents, and that patents of value are converted into products that benifit the community.

    But to do that you would have to prove that the company that owns that patent is NOT employing it, and that you CAN and WILL.
    If you fail to employ that patent if you are allowed to use it, you will be fined a great deal of money and you patent will return to the original owning party.

    It would be a "have a go" clause, if you think you can make good money from a patent, and that patent exists but is not being employed you can "have a go", but if you fail you will pay, if you do not fail you will profit from the patent. (and pay appropriate license to the owning company).

    But this "if you such and are small we'll let you play under different rules" is a joke... it is stupid to even propose it....

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