Does Patent Licensing by Patent Trolls - Or Anyone - Serve A Useful Purpose?

from the nope,-not-really dept

Patent trolls -- sometimes known more politely as "Non-Practising Entities" (NPEs) -- probably have few fans among Techdirt readers, but there are some who try to justify their activities. Here's how the argument usually goes:

Defenders of patent trolls ... argue that they serve as business intermediaries between inventors and commercializers. While the traditional theory of the patent system is that patents encourage innovation by allowing inventors to exclude competitors from the market and therefore earn supracompetitive returns, a number of scholars have argued that the patent system can encourage commercialization of inventions once they are made by allowing the inventor to control who can develop the technology.
That comes from an interesting new paper from Robin Feldman and Mark A. Lemley, which explores whether patent trolls really do fulfill this theoretical function in practice. It's long and detailed, but its results are pretty clear-cut:
Based on our preliminary evidence, the theory that NPEs facilitate innovation either through the creation of new products or by delivering actual technical know-how from inventors to implementers doesn’t hold water. NPEs almost never actually provide any valuable information to their licensees, and they rarely, if ever, prompt the development of any new products. Licensees are paying for freedom to operate -- the right not to be sued for implementing technology they developed on their own but which someone has asserted will fit within their patent rights. Thus, the study does not support the efficient middleman hypothesis for characterizing the role of NPEs.
That's a valuable contribution to the debate about patent trolls, but the paper offers other insights. For example, it finds that not only do patent trolls not bring about much technology transfer with their patent licensing, neither does anyone else, either:
That doesn’t mean technology transfer doesn’t happen; it does. But it may mean that technology transfer happens early in the life of a technology, and that secrets, collaborations, and informal know-how, not patents, are the primary focus of real technology licensing agreements.
That's an important point. The paper also provides yet more evidence that the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, designed to encourage the commercialization of research results through licensing, actually turns universities into patent trolls -- something that Techdirt has discussed before. Although the authors suggest that further research is needed to confirm their results, it already seems pretty clear that both patent trolls and Bayh-Dole need to go.

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 7:36am

    it already seems pretty clear that both patent trolls and Bayh-Dole need to go.

    I'd say the current intellectual property system as a whole needs to go...

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    • identicon
      Michael, 23 Mar 2015 @ 10:55am

      Re:

      But think of all of those poor patent and copyright attorneys. How can we make sure they still get paid for all of their hard work?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 11:02am

      Re:

      Be careful recommending something like this. As strange as it may seem to us today, since the patent system has been around for centuries before any of us were born, it was put in place to help do away with something even worse: trade secrets, and the great loss to society that occurs when such secrets die with the tradesman.

      One of the most extreme examples--and yet one of the most useful--is steel. How old do you think it is? Modern steelmaking techniques were first developed as part of the Industrial Revolution, but of course that wasn't the beginning of it; the iconic imagery of the knight in steel armor with a steel sword is centuries older than that. But steel was old even in Medieval times; the oldest known samples date back to the 14th century BC!

      It wasn't until the 19th century that it began to be created in great quantities, which proved the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution that laid the foundation for modern life. But why?

      The actual answer is basic greed. Steel is difficult to get right, and throughout the ages, whenever some smith would stumble on the formula, they would keep it as a closely-guarded secret, generally to get lots of money from the local royalty supplying weapons and armor to the army. Which is a nice job if you can get it, but then a funny thing happens a few decades later: the smith ends up dying one way or another, and unless he's passed on the secret to an apprentice or another smith... no more steel.

      This happened over and over and over for more than 3000 years, to the point where you have to wonder if the real question isn't "why did it not happen that way again in the 19th century?" And the answer is patents.

      The British government, fed up with the way society kept losing valuable knowledge to trade secrets, set up a patent system that provided an incentive to publish the details of new inventions rather than keep them secret... and it worked. When steelmaking patents expired and the techniques entered the public domain, anyone with the requisite technical expertise and a bit of capital could set up a Bessemer Converter. The price of steel plummeted almost tenfold, making it readily available as a structural material, people started building machines out of it, and the rest is history. Turns out valueless steel is far more valuable than valuable steel, from a societal perspective at least. (Interesting note: The patent on the Bessemer Converter expired in 1870. In 1873, Karl Benz produced his first gasoline engine, and then went on to invent the automobile.)

      Without the patent system, the Industrial Revolution might never have happened, and we would still be stuck at an early-19th-century standard of living. If that sounds unrealistic, keep in mind that trade secrets on steel had already held the progress of civilization back by over 3000 years, so what's another couple centuries?

      Still want to get rid of patents?

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 11:59am

        Re: Re:

        Actually, per-industrial revolution the smiths could not analyze their steel, and results depended on the actual ores, fluxes and fuels used. However the trades spread what knowledge they had via the Institution of journeymen, where a trained man traveled from shop to shop to learn from different masters than the one that trained him. That allowed the to see how the problems were solved in an age when the craftsmen could not actually describe accurately how they did what they did.
        In the case of treating steel, it is not possible to accurately describe processes accurately when for instance; temperature is determined by the color showing on the metal; but it is relatively easy to show someone else the color to use, at least once they have the basics of working steel.
        Trade secrets became a problem when industrialization allowed a concentration of production, and where an investment in plant was their to be protected.

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        • icon
          Mason Wheeler (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 12:10pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          And yet somehow the cycle still continued, even well into and even beyond the medieval period. Case in point, there was a high-grade steel from India known as wootz, whose quality was legendary in its time, and of higher quality than a Bessemer Converter could produce. It was consistently made in small quantities from around 200 AD to around 1700 AD, so the technique got passed down for quite a few generations, but then in the 18th century wootz production abruptly disappeared from history, and even today no one's sure exactly how it was made anymore.

          That's the problem that patents solve.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 12:26pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The problem with Wootz, and the probable cause of its disappearance was that is was made from a particular ore, from a particular area, and when that ran out, no more Wootz. A patent would not have preserved the 'secret' of Wootz production, as the people at the time could not carry out the necessary chemical analysis of their ores, fuel or fluxes. Similarly the production could not be spread or moved, as the makers could not identify identical ores elsewhere.

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            • icon
              Mason Wheeler (profile), 24 Mar 2015 @ 7:15am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Yes, that's one theory. But the problem with no one knowing why it died out is that no one knows why it died out. And considering that the reason steelmaking was lost in every other case was due to not publishing the techniques involved...

              Well, you know what they say about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence.

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          • identicon
            Michael, 23 Mar 2015 @ 12:27pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            That's the problem that patents solve.

            Thank goodness there is one problem that they solve.

            Except that it is a 1000 year old problem that, in today's world, would not be a problem (we can do an analysis on steel to determine what it is comprised of). Then, let's just look carefully at the fact that the "differing qualities of steel" solution has been applied to things like computer software in a way that does not remotely ensure that software quality is better.

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            • icon
              Mason Wheeler (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 1:07pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Except that it is a 1000 year old problem that, in today's world, would not be a problem (we can do an analysis on steel to determine what it is comprised of).

              The problem isn't "what is it comprised of?" The problem is "how do you make it?", and the answer is non-obvious.

              Everyone knows (today, at least) that steel is made of an alloy of iron and carbon. Even if you knew how much of each to mix, there's the tricky question of how to get them to alloy properly when the ignition temperature of most common forms of free carbon is well below the melting point of iron! And the tolerances are pretty narrow, too. Not enough carbon, and you get iron that's slightly harder than usual. Too much, and you end up with pig iron, which is hard but so brittle as to be almost useless. There's a very narrow "sweet spot" in between that produces steel.

              What the Bessmer Converter did was take pig iron (which had too much carbon in it), melt it down, and blow air over it in a controlled manner to slowly burn off the excess carbon until they got it down to the right percentage, and then let it solidify again. That's not a trick that analysis of what the steel is composed of is going to reveal; that's a genuine new invention that someone has to think of and publish before it becomes generally available.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2015 @ 3:26pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              You can analyze steel to death, and that analysis will tell you the atomic constituents of the steel. What the analysis will not tell you is how the steel was processed to get the properties it has, which are sometimes STILL protected with trade secrets.

              I am personally aware of both situations, where metal working processes are covered by trade secrets because the processor is fairly certain that no one else knows how to do what they are doing, and where metal working processes that would have been covered by trade secret are covered by patents. Whether a process is covered by one or the other is often by the culture of the company. I find it humorous when people say "patents aren't needed for progress," because I know of several companies who process metals and have few, if any, patents, but a huge number of trade secrets. Go figure.

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              • icon
                nasch (profile), 24 Mar 2015 @ 4:22pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                I find it humorous when people say "patents aren't needed for progress," because I know of several companies who process metals and have few, if any, patents, but a huge number of trade secrets.

                Which means that patents are not preventing trade secrets, not that they are necessary for progress.

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                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2015 @ 7:52am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  As multiple studies have found, trade secrets continue to exist alongside patents.

                  On the other hand, multiple studies have found that patents are the overwhelming source of new knowledge in certain areas (e.g., chemistry) because that knowledge would not be otherwise published. Furthermore, those same studies have found that people in those industries regularly read and analyze patents specifically to learn what other companies are doing; i.e., they are necessary for progress in at least those industries.

                  Furthermore, patent searching and analysis has become a cottage industry employing thousands of people whose full-time job is to help companies understand their competitor's technology and how they can use that knowledge in their own business. Seems to me that such endeavors are related to patent-driven progress.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            nasch (profile), 24 Mar 2015 @ 7:29am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            That's the problem that patents solve.

            That's one of the problems they're intended to solve, but in the US at least they generally do not. Patent applications are now strictly legal documents, and are not useful at all in describing how to reproduce the invention. There are cases (I would guess it's very common) where the person who made the invention doesn't recognize or understand the patent application.

            So if you look at what Ninja said: "I'd say the current intellectual property system as a whole needs to go..." it makes perfect sense.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2015 @ 3:24pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Legally, the inventor is required to understand the application because the inventor is required to sign a document saying that he invented the apparatus/devices/etc. described in the application. I can see where a respondent would have a field day if an inventor testifying for a litigant said they had no idea what was in a patent, because that also means the inventor did not know what they had invented and whether it was properly enabled. I smell a quick defeat if such a patent is litigated.

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              • icon
                nasch (profile), 26 Mar 2015 @ 3:41pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Legally, the inventor is required to understand the application

                Yeah, and constitutionally the patent system is required to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, but that isn't happening either.

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                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2015 @ 11:14am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  As I said earlier, Nasch, there is evidence that at least in the chemical arts that patents do promote the progress. Even in non-chemical fields, it turns out that people do read patents, though to a lesser extent than for chemical arts. If 30% of respondents in mechanical arts are reading patents, then clearly those 30% believe patents promote the progress of science and useful arts.

                  As for inventors allegedly not understanding the application, then that is an easy win in a lawsuit for a respondent. However, while that does happen, it is very rare, so it seems like inventors apparently do understand the applications filed that describe their inventions.

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      • icon
        Seegras (profile), 24 Mar 2015 @ 1:31am

        Re: Re:

        You're so wrong. Most of the patent systems were implemented when the industrial revolution was well on its way.

        http://seegras.discordia.ch/Blog/voices-against-the-patent-system-the-economist-1851/

        And a lot of the patents (like Watts) actually DELAYED the industrial revolution.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2015 @ 11:59am

        Re: Re:

        Luckily there were no Non-Practicing Entities roughing up anyone who attempted to make and sell steel.

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      • icon
        Gerald Barnett (profile), 9 Oct 2016 @ 12:05pm

        Re Patents

        Whatever the general case, in universities, there is already a commitment to publish, to teach, and to inform the community. A patent as a publication is about as ugly a form of publishing or teaching as one can get. But university faculty aren't "tradesmen" ready to take trade secrets to the grave. Bayh-Dole sets up to make faculty publish in a given forum (in the patent literature) so middlemen can then exploit their work for profit (or at least profit-seeking, you know, 1 in 1,000 or so).

        And for all that, Bayh-Dole, part of federal patent law, requires that the patent system be used *to promote the utilization* of inventions made with federal support (35 USC 200). Not to troll industry with a threat to *prevent* utilization or to make people *design around* (and so not use) a subject invention. If trolling were perfectly acceptable, there would be no point to 35 USC 200. If the patent publication was all there was to it, again, no reason for 35 USC 200. It would just state: "use the patent system." But there *is* a point to 35 USC 200. Trolling is not a property right available for patents on subject inventions. See 35 USC 261.

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  • icon
    pixelpusher220 (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 9:35am

    Yes it does

    If I patent something but don't have the means to actually see it through, selling the patent is a reasonable way to use the patent system to encourage innovation.

    If a small time inventor isn't likely to see return, they are less likely to do it.

    Allowing them to sell their patents lets the little guy profit in world geared way to heavily to the big guy.

    That said, how you allow the sale to *only* 'big guys' who actually intend to produce the patented invention is the crux of the problem.

    IP laws need reform in many ways, but lets also not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 9:37am

      Re: Yes it does

      If you're really a little guy, a patent doesn't do you much good.

      You going to fight a 1+ million dollar patent lawsuit on your own against a big company?

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      • icon
        pixelpusher220 (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 9:44am

        Re: Re: Yes it does

        You make my argument for me. If a little guy can't fight a lawsuit, it makes EVEN MORE sense to sell said patent for at least some return on the little guy's investment...

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 10:37am

          Re: Re: Re: Yes it does

          The problem with the middlemen that buy the patents is that they make all the profit. The result is that for the little guy to receive £1,000, society pays £1,000,000 or more in licensing fees to the trolls. This only make economic sense if you are the troll.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 10:02am

      Re: Yes it does

      Patents protecting small-time inventors from the big corporate baddies is the kind of nonsense you read in fairy tales. Even acquiring the patent in the first place is expensive (USPTO cost summary here), let alone suing for infringement, let alone the countersuit the big baddies can and will file against the upstart. How many lawsuits can a basement genius afford?

      They'd be hard-pressed to design a system more rigged against the mythical "poor, lonely inventor".

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      • identicon
        Michael, 23 Mar 2015 @ 10:28am

        Re: Re: Yes it does

        They can't.

        I hold a patent on that.

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      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 11:15am

        Re: Re: Yes it does

        Yeah, the protection aspect of patents is badly broken. That's been known for decades. Consider the case of Philo Farnsworth.

        Have you ever heard of him? Most people haven't, which is a bit surprising considering his enormous impact on modern culture: He's the guy who invented television! He really ought to be a household name, alongside Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell, but a funny thing happened on the way to the history books: RCA started producing his invention.

        It's not that Farnsworth's television wasn't worthy of patent protection. It was a truly novel and revolutionary invention, a genuine American success story. There were lots of people working on "the television problem" at about the same time, but most of them were trying (unsuccessfully) to build something based on the principle of some sort of rotating device. That was the obvious way to do it, right? Afterall, that's how movie projectors work!

        Farnsworth had the brilliant idea of abandoning the "projector" paradigm entirely and setting up a grid of pixels that would be selectively activated by a completely stationary electron gun, and he was essentially the only one who went that route. And it worked! He did everything right, took out a patent, and started producing and selling televisions.

        And then the RCA company started producing them too. There's really no room for doubt or interpretation here; Farnsworth had a valid patent, and RCA was ripping him off. He tried to take them to court, but he was one guy and they were a giant company with tons of lawyers, and... long story short, Philo Farnsworth died in poverty.

        The basic idea of the patent system is a good one, but it's in serious need of reform and has been for at least that long.

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    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 10:13am

      Re: Yes it does

      If a small time inventor isn't likely to see return, they are less likely to do it.

      It doesn't take much reading to disprove this line and your entire argument. Patents are very recent so basically you are saying that most of historic progress wouldn't be possible. And there are fields where patents don't apply that are still receiving tons of attention.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 11:11am

        Re: Re: Yes it does

        To be honest, I don't buy the "something is very recent in history"-line of argumentation. Particularly when the industrialisation happened in the same period of time in history, as well as trade liberalisations (actual freer trade), the research boom in the 1800s and other unrelated changes can easily be argued to completely change the framework in which patents fit in.

        At the same time you should realize that you are attacking a strawman since he precisely stipulates it only covers "a small time inventor". A better connected and resourced person or company would still have an incentive which arguably has been the case historically since substinance forced most small timers to spend their time on more urgent needs.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 10:48am

      Re: Yes it does

      If a small time inventor isn't likely to see return, they are less likely to do it.

      As a counter example I offer Free and Opensource Software, which is the basis for the very Internet you are using now.

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    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 11:35am

      Re: Yes it does

      If I patent something but don't have the means to actually see it through, selling the patent is a reasonable way to use the patent system to encourage innovation.

      There are two implicit assumptions in that, neither of which hold up under much scrutiny.

      Implicit assumption #1: That raising capital for an idea is impossible for small players. If an idea is truly interesting, there are lots of ways to raise capital for it, and you don't need patents to do that (despite what some claim).

      Implicit assumption #2: The selling of the patent actually transfers something useful towards the actual innovation. As others have noted, there is rarely much in the patent itself that actually helps the innovation move forward. Most of the useful "know how" is entirely unrelated to what's in the patent.

      If a small time inventor isn't likely to see return, they are less likely to do it.


      And yet, you almost never see cases of someone selling a patent to encourage development of some new technology. It's almost all about giving control to some party to either sue others over it, or to prevent being sued. It's not actual knowledge transfer.

      That's the point of the study.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        pixelpusher220 (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 12:00pm

        Re: Re: Yes it does

        on the raising of capital front, indeed the recent years have shown a remarkable trend toward the little guy being able to do this effectively and nimbly. A very good development.

        Implicit assumption #2: The selling of the patent actually transfers something useful towards the actual innovation

        The innovation itself is entirely separate from the patent. One is real, the other is an entirely made up legal construct - so no the patent isn't going to do anything to the actual innovation. Except encourage people to innovate because there is some possible 'reasonable' return on their effort; which is the point no?

        And yet, you almost never see cases of someone selling a patent to encourage development of some new technology

        Never said that. Being small enough that you can't adequately bring it to market is an entirely valid reason for selling the patent. Some people are 'idea people' who are better suited to coming up with new innovative ideas but aren't good at bringing it to market. They should be given protection shouldn't they?

        If they want to try and fail to bring something to market...that's up to them, but selling their patents to someone who can would seem to be a way to encourage yet more innovation.

        It's a reasonable argument whether this is truly *needed* anymore, but it does encourage innovation. As to whether the existence of patent trolls negates that encouragement...perhaps, but simply throwing out the patent system entirely wouldn't be a great thing either.

        The 'knowledge transfer' also likely doesn't happen if someone figures something out in the garage but doesn't take it further because they won't see any return from the effort.

        The internet and modern connectivity are certainly helping people transfer vast amounts of knowledge without the patent system, but I would disagree that it isn't still a useful tool to be used.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 2:44pm

          Re: Re: Re: Yes it does

          As we move foreward, the main argument of knowledge-sharing happening through patents becomes less and less important. The internet is probably innovations best friend and one of the bond between patent and innovations worst enemies. It is removing the monopoly on the knowledge sharing the patents provided for innovations.

          A continual irrational political obsession with the increasingly flawed logic of more patents = more innovation and the natural judicial erosion of standards for innovasion hight in a biased opinion space are reducing the connection between innovasion and patents even further.

          What we are seeing in some open source driven environments is a movement from focus on patents to far more focus on the innovator and the skills needed to implement the innovasion which is arguably a stronger advantage for the small innovator since it will provide him with opportunities and connections he can use far better than the larger legal persons (speaking engagements, teaching opportunities, jobs in general etc.).

          All in all the value in the open source knowledge transfer cycle for the garage inventor can easily be better than taking the economic risk of patenting and protecting the idea for 20 years in the hope of some return or selling the pantent to an NPE with no other incentive than enforcing it aggressively and/or brokering it at a profit!

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        • icon
          nasch (profile), 24 Mar 2015 @ 7:34am

          Re: Re: Re: Yes it does

          Some people are 'idea people' who are better suited to coming up with new innovative ideas but aren't good at bringing it to market. They should be given protection shouldn't they?

          If coming up with ideas is hard (or a rare ability) and developing them into usefulness is easy, yes. I rather suspect it's the other way around though.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 9:35am

    "That doesn’t mean technology transfer doesn’t happen; it does. But it may mean that technology transfer happens early in the life of a technology, and that secrets, collaborations, and informal know-how, not patents, are the primary focus of real technology licensing agreements."

    I think a lot of that is the direct result of the lack of clear information in a patent. It's all legalese, generalized, and almost useless for actually building something.

    It's always the details that matter, not the 100 ft view that patents describe so they can cast the widest net possible. You rarely learn anything by reading patents.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 10:17am

    Do George Soros or Warren Buffet deserve millions PER DAY?

    NO.

    The "analysis" being criticized and the criticism aren't exactly wrong, just useless weenie-ing over very minor problems of predatory capitalism that's become completely skewed to acquisition of money rather than making goods.

    That's what needs changed. Tax the hell out of unearned income, but ZERO tax on wages. Cures this automatically. -- It's not a new idea: the country prospered when upper incomes were taxed at 90 percent -- that's NINETY -- and the last 30 years prove that lowering taxes on high incomes does NOT result in general prosperity, only makes the rich richer. But the myth lingers; it's taught in Ivy League schools and promulgated by trust fund kids.

    IF were an economist at Techdirt who knew about actual production (either industrial or intellectual), rather than devising schemes to re-distribute (such as greasy blob Kim Dotcom getting millions from content he had no part of making and not paying a cent to those who created it), then... well, for anyone honest, I don't even need to complete that sentence. Masnick isn't devising or advising on ways for creators to prosper (other than the loony notion of giving "your stuff" away), and now definitely only promotes schemes enriching already rich NEW gatekeepers such as Spotify and Apple.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2015 @ 11:55am

      Re: Do George Soros or Warren Buffet deserve millions PER DAY?

      The new political idealisation: Extreme socialism combined with libertarianism. Two of the easiest to communicate messages and two of the most oversimplified.

      That some people are good at taking contexts out of reality and generalize lack of evidence to concoct ad hominem is pretty creative. You may become a good author.

      Just to avoid relying on too heavy double standards:
      https://www.techdirt.com/blog/casestudies/
      Has a pretty good library on cases where emphasis is on alternative monetization schemes. To critisize it as shameless promotion of Spotify and Apple seems to be quite an airball...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2015 @ 5:34pm

      Re:

      You're the one who thinks Hollywood deserves millions per day. No one believes you, out_of_the_blue.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lord Binky, 23 Mar 2015 @ 10:32am

    The more complicated technology is, there is more ways to screw things up, as well as improve. Keeping the tips and tricks to yourself is a better way to keep ahead than patents.

    Patents don't help with complicated things either. Although changing just one step in a patent makes it unique from another, having to pay legal costs to prove it's uniqueness makes it worthwhile to settle. Massive legal costs can't help any progress be made, defer money that could be invested into progress, and can ONLY harm an entity that doesn't consider millions of dollars trivial pocket change.

    Can patents help simple things? Maybe but they aren't when they are being used to harm the people actually advancing technology. Even then, throw more steps in and the price of inefficiency could be well worth the cost of licensing, so it's easy to counter that helpfulness.

    What is needed is patent protection. Relinquish all patents for the entirety of an organization or person, and that organization or person is freed from patent laws. If they want to change their mind later, they can't claim what they gave up, but they can jump back into the patent game with the big boys with new patents. This lets inventors invent without worry until it becomes necessary, and even then it's a choice they have. The better ecosystem will survive, or it might just make a crazy balance between the two. Either way at least progress is being promoted again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 23 Mar 2015 @ 10:34am

    Good luck with that

    Although the authors suggest that further research is needed to confirm their results, it already seems pretty clear that both patent trolls and Bayh-Dole need to go.

    The devil will keep crapping on the largest heap.

    You don't raise a Moloch and then get to decide to stop feeding it. Just because patents have turned into a hilarious perversion of what they were intended to be for (but take a look at where copyright went) you don't get to decide to make them go away.

    As long as the politicians are free to line their pockets from the cream of the pests, being a bad idea will never be a limitation for anything that has consumed enough money.

    Consider the politicians to be ants protecting aphids because of those crapping out sugary goo while damaging plants.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 23 Mar 2015 @ 10:45am

      Re: Good luck with that

      If you want to see where talking against existing monetary interests will lead you, take a look at what happened to Derek Khanna after the House Republican Study Committee passed his report proposing to cut down copyright durations drastically. Within days, the committee was forced to recant and Khanna got excommunicated.

      So good luck for the study about the damage patent trolls cause to make an impact.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 10:38am

    Interesting parallel

    In the software industry at least, there is a ton of innovation and technology transfer - some of it commercial in nature - and none of it using patents.

    Example: DevExpress. I know, I know. I hate their controls too, but you can't argue with the fact that they are at least somewhat commercially successful, and they sell technology that's not an end product, but a platform meant to be used to enable faster software development. At the end of the day they are transferring technology for monetary gain. And it's a system that is completely outside of the patent process.

    And in the software world, they are not a rare or one-off example of this business model.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 11:10am

    Mason Wheeler said it best

    His post is right above mine. It's lengthy, so if TL;DR let me say this:

    The purpose of patents is to SHARE trade secrets. It is NOT to squirrel away technology nor to charge people who did not use YOUR PARTICULAR trade secret.

    Monetizing patents and NPEs aren't "doing a service" to the inventor, the world, or anyone other than their pockets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 24 Mar 2015 @ 1:49am

      Sharing trade secrets

      The purpose of patents is to SHARE trade secrets. It is NOT to squirrel away technology nor to charge people who did not use YOUR PARTICULAR trade secret.

      No. That's the IDEA of patents. However, they DON'T work this way, apart from the field of chemistry/pharmaceuticals.

      Please go read up http://www.dklevine.com/general/intellectual/againstnew.htm particularly chapters 8+, where the authors detail that in EVERY FIELD except chemistry/pharmaceuticals, legal costs are always higher than license income. Which makes it quite clear the patent system does not work according to how its supposed to work.

      (It can be argued that the patent system is detrimental to the interests of society regarding chemistry/pharmaceuticals, but within itself, it's working as expected.).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 12:59pm

    I'm wondering if the term "Non-Practising Entities" includes companies that get patents, but neither license them nor use them nor sell them, but just sit on them to keep them locked up because releasing the new technology would risk disrupting that company's core business.

    I'm thinking of Kodak inventing the digital camera (and presumably getting patents) in the early 1970s, when the company enjoyed a lucrative monopoly on photographic film products, a business model that would have been destroyed (and eventually was) by digital photography.

    Or conceivably, if the MAFIAA had patented file compression and file sharing technologies, not to license it or use it themselves, but for the sole purpose of extending their plastic-disk business model.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 1:17pm

      Re:

      Kodak just sat on its digital technology? My recollection is that for many years it was recognized as the premier source for the photo arrays used by digital camera manufacturers. Kodak was to digital cameras much like it was to film cameras...the source of supply of what was needed to record images.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 1:45pm

    Patents may be needed in some area,s
    but they are absolutely useless an harmful in a
    an area like software .
    See all countrys outside the usa ,
    wheres all the poor inventors ,programmers crying out for

    software patent protection.
    there are none.
    An the whole internet is built on open source software ,
    common standards ,protocols,
    patent trolls are buying patents off old companys that
    cant compete ,
    or else filing for broad wide ranging patents
    that can be used to attack startups or demand money,
    if a company wants to protect ip,
    they can copywrite the code of the programs they write ,no patents are needed to do that.
    I think programmers are not allowed to look at patents
    in case they maybe accused of copying idea,s ,
    in future lawsuits ,
    so where s the advancement of science there ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), 23 Mar 2015 @ 2:22pm

    In other news...

    Armed Robbers do NOT facilitate the efficient transfer of monetary contributions between the rich and the poor (apologies to Robin Hood).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2015 @ 2:57pm

    Abolish Patents

    Abolish Patents

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AC, 25 Mar 2015 @ 11:00am

    Patents need to die.

    I don't see how giving corporations a 35-year patent on ideas they stole from undergraduates is a positive mechanism for driving technological progress, so much as a full-employment mechanism for patent lawyers and corrupt professors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2015 @ 7:47am

      Re: Patents need to die.

      Patents do not last 35 years.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2015 @ 7:56am

      Re: Patents need to die.

      It is unlikely that patents will die in your lifetime, and possibly never. What people seem to forget is that the last time the US did not have a national patent system, they had 12 of them (there might have been 13, but for some reason, one state may not have had its own patent system).

      While some people seem to think that Congress could prevent any one state from having its own system, it would take years and many lawsuits, and the Supreme Court has found on previous occasions that when the federal government does not do what it is authorized to do, it is okay for the states to take that responsibility.

      So, abolish the federal patent system, and it is likely that individual states will create their own, for the first time in 230 years. The states that would likely be among the first to create their own patent system would be California and Texas, followed by Arizona, Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2015 @ 7:58am

      Re: Patents need to die.

      I don't see how snarky, erroneous, unsupported comments in a Techdirt thread are related to free speech, but they are.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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