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
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2011 @ 9:16pm

    Perfectly Simple Fix

    Why not just get rid of all the suing altogether? That is easily done, by Congress. Just repeal the part of the law which makes patent infringement illegal. With infringement gone, the patent trolls are out of business. Patents can get used for some other purpose than running an extortion racket. Junk patents are either gone or harmless. Trolls and their able assistants, the inventors of the obvious and the already known, would have no payoff for going to the trouble of getting a junk patent. The deluded would still be patenting, but their patents would be unable to do anybody any harm.

    Decent inventors who really have invented something good can use their patents as a way of getting consulting work and to get credit. Greedy inventors, who are irrationally convinced that it would be a terrible thing for someone else to use their invention, without them getting paid, can be told, "Your invention is not required." Independent invention works just fine. Trade secrets and contract law still exist, so the greedy inventors might get lucky, if they play their cards right.

    The patent office should turn into a repository of knowledge about technology, freely available to all. One might hope, maybe they might get their indexing and search system fixed.

    Or, the USA could just keep on damaging its own economy. The trouble with that plan is that China is already free of patent trolls, due to the magic of selective enforcement. Ask the guys populating the vibrant "shanzhai" scene, how bothered they are about patent infringement. You will give them a good laugh.

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