Stanford Professor Insists Consumers Are Helped By Patent Trolls

from the why-does-stanford-hire-these-people dept

Bloomberg has a weird story about Unwired Planet's patent trolling. As we've discussed, Unwired Planet is a company that's gone through many forms over the years, from Phone.com to Openwave and then Unwired Planet. It's true that the company was something of a pioneer in early WAP browsers, but WAP browsers were a joke that never caught on. The mobile internet didn't really catch on until the rise of smartphones and higher bandwidth wireless data connections -- which Unwired Planet had nothing to do with. So like many failed tech companies, it decided to go full on patent troll. A few years ago, we wrote about it buying more than 2,000 patents from Ericsson that it was then using to shake down companies that didn't fail in the same space that Unwired Planet did fail in.

The Bloomberg article is mostly unremarkable, other than calling the company the "inventor" of the mobile internet. That's misleading. It was one hyped up company that helped push a failed vision of a mobile internet, that eventually went nowhere. And now it's patent trolling. But the other bizarre part of the article is that it quotes Stanford professor Stephen Haber as claiming that consumers benefit from patent trolls:
“The losers from a world without patent litigation would, in the end, be consumers,” said Haber. Inventors won’t innovate unless they can ensure they are paid for their invention, he argued.
He may argue that, but he's wrong. Like, really wrong. Actual research shows that the leading reasons for innovating have absolutely nothing to do with patents. Rather, people and companies tend to innovate because (1) they need something themselves or (2) they see a need in the market. And the "ensure they are paid for their invention" makes no sense. If they have an invention people want, then they can sell that product and make money that way. You don't need patents for that. Yes, some others may enter the market as well, but that's called competition, and that's a good thing.

Amazingly, if you look at Stephen Haber's official bio, you'd think he'd know this. After all, it says:
Haber has spent his academic life investigating the political institutions and economic policies that delay innovation and improvements in living standards. Much of that work has focused on how regulatory and supervisory agencies are often used by incumbent firms to stifle competition, thereby curtailing economic opportunities and slowing technological progress.
Regulatory agencies used by incumbent firms to stifle competition is basically the definition of the patent system. Yet, instead, Haber has been spending the last few years preaching the wonders of patent trolling, insisting that lots of litigation is just fine and that there's no evidence that it's harming consumers. That's ridiculous. Tons of studies have shown the massive costs of patent trolling on innovation.

Having a Stanford professor spout such nonsense reflects incredibly poorly on Stanford.

Filed Under: innovation, mobile internet, patent trolling, patent trolls, patents, stephen haber
Companies: unwired planet


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  • identicon
    Michael, 5 Oct 2015 @ 11:54am

    “The losers from a world without patent litigation would, in the end, be consumers,”

    As a consumer, I think that this is an acceptable loss and would be happy to suffer the consequences to allow for better innovation.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 11:58am

    Would be better if your slant was off patents as such and on unproductive grifters.

    Advocate that actual industrialists making goods should have protections, but not mere shell corporations that never make goods. It's not a subtle difference, easily tested first thing in a court.

    There. Off top of my head, I've given an actual bullet point that you could take and advocate (for free! without even attribution!), but I predict that you'll continue your unbroken string of only kibitzing, never taking any position.


    Heck, you even make it difficult to impossible to get the comment in here! 8th try... Why do I bother, then? -- To point up what an empty shell Techdirt is! No actual plans, not even wishes, just complaints! The more difficult commenting here is, more that needs emphasized!

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

  • icon
    Dan (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 12:16pm

    If they have an invention people want, then they can sell that product and make money that way. You don't need patents for that.

    True. You need patents to keep your competitors from copying what you did and undercutting you on price (since they didn't have to do much in the way of R&D).

    There are lots of abuses in the patent system, and lots of patents out there that never should have been granted. There are lots of ways in which the system doesn't serve its intended purpose, and it may well be that the best answer is to burn the whole system to the ground (metaphorically) and start over (or maybe not start over at all).

    But in considering that, we shouldn't lose sight of the underlying intent. It was the belief of the framers that people would have an increased incentive to innovate if they believed they could profit from their inventions. Thus, they believed, someone who invented something truly innovative should be temporarily guaranteed the exclusive right to make that invention. Hence, patents. I have trouble seeing how, in principle, this is a bad thing.

    When you say that "you don't need patents" to create and sell something, you're setting up a strawman. Nobody's saying that patents are essential to creating products, that they're essential for innovation, or that profit is the only incentive people have to innovate--all of these are demonstrably false. But to deny that profit provides any incentive to innovate just doesn't make sense.

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

    • identicon
      JEDIDIAH, 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:58pm

      Bad assumptions lead to a bad result.

      You may not see the bad side of patents, but Jefferson did. He was our first patent clerk and none of the BS that goes on today would have passed muster with him.

      The original English patent system was created so craftsmen would not hoard knowledge and people would not be recreating things. However, it is clear that the cost of "recreating things" is far preferable to the current situation. Necessity is the mother of invention, not avarice. People will "invent" simply because shit needs to get done. They don't have any idea of "owning" it.

      Unfortunately, anyone's work can be hijacked by all manner of trolls claiming to own the obvious. Even mere consumers can be eggregiously harrassed by this nonsense.

      There are entire frameworks for sharing academic knowledge so the value of sharing knowledge through patents would be disputable even if patents weren't worthless as documentation.

      It's so bad that undergrads and even school children can see an "invention" and immediately recreate it without any documentation of the inner workings of the "device".

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 6:19am

      Re:

      " Thus, they believed, someone who invented something truly innovative should be temporarily guaranteed the exclusive right to make that invention."

      That wasn't really the intent. The purpose of the patent system is less to encourage innovation (although that's a part) and more to offer an incentive for inventors to reveal what it is that they invented so that others can build on what they did.

      I agree that a patent system can be a very good thing. I also agree that the patent system we have is broken and doesn't do much toward accomplishing its goal.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 12:27pm

    There we go again!

    Inventors won’t innovate unless they can ensure they are paid for their invention, he argued.
    The "All or Nothing" argument in it's most horrible form.
    I am tired of listen to these smucks putting this out there and basicly getting away with it every time.
    Every journalist should swear an oath to call people out in the loudest possible way when this occurs.
    It is always:
    Choose: Terrorism, pedophile rapists, and Anarchy vs giving the govt total power.
    Full copyright for you and your grandchildrens grandchildren or no art.
    Patent trolls and innovation vs. becoming a 3. world contry where you will starve to death in the steets.
    It is so sad that people actually buy this mother of craps.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 12:28pm

    The absolute certainty that I would be shaken down, sued, or be the subject of a hostile takeover guarantees that anything I create will be alternatively distributed.

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

  • icon
    connermac725 (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 1:41pm

    Never a Dull read here

    I always come here for the funny comments and I am never disappointed
    sorry to those who thought they were serious but funny is funny right

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:09pm

    those who can't.... teach

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:50pm

      Re:

      those who can't.... teach

      And those who really can't, blog angrily while personally attacking those that disagree with them.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:57pm

        Re: Re:

        And those that have nothing to say in response, attack personally.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 4:19pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I'm happy to engage Mike on the merits. I've been trying to for many years. He runs away every single time.

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

          • identicon
            Just Another Anonymous Troll, 6 Oct 2015 @ 5:13am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            That's called "having better things to do than argue with an idiot troll who will never understand and continue to throw shit".

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 7:58am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Or, a chicken of a man who can't defend anything that he says because he knows it's all nonsense.

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

              • identicon
                Moonkey, 6 Oct 2015 @ 9:52am

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

                Out of all the commenters on this website I have seen, you may have the thickest skull. And what I just said probably contradicts what I'm about to say.

                Like I said in another article, speak professionally. Don't speak with insults, speak with what you believe in. Have it challenged and graciously accept the challenges. Don't respond to those challenges with insults or aggravation. Be true to yourself, and be patient.

                Many ignore you or discredit you because you speak to discredit others without reasonable evidence, using only your opinions as cannon fodder.

                Mike does not want to stoop to that level, so don't give others a reason to.

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

                • identicon
                  Moonkey, 6 Oct 2015 @ 9:56am

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

                  Unless you're sadistic.

                  Then by all means have a hayride. :D

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

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 11:18am

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

                  I'm here all day long, every day. If you or Mike ever wants to talk specifics, I'm all ears. I suspect that you, like Mike, never want to say anything specific. It's so much easier to discredit our enemies that way, right?

                  Anyway, you name it, I'm here. Any specific thing you want to discuss on the merits, I'm your guy. I doubt you ever will be. It makes me sad that you can't, but that's my burden.

                  Challenge accepted?

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

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 9:28pm

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

                    You think that consumers are helped by companies that demand other companies for money - just because they use commercially available scanners to scan documents into pictures and attach them to emails? Really?

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 6:22am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Oh, great. It's Chicken-Noise-Counts-As-Arguments Man again. Don't you have an account to log into? Or are you once again admitting that your sole purpose is to troll, spam, and be an asshole?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 12:59am

      Re:

      Those who can't.....get an MBA, run companies and take control of other people's work.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:53pm

    The possibility of him raking in money for this is pretty high up there , but now he's selling his soul for a few dollars.

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

  • icon
    Glenn D. Jones (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 4:07pm

    Take a look at who funded some of his papers

    Here's a paper co-authored by Haber, entitled "AN EMPIRICAL EXAMINATION OF PATENT HOLDUP":

    http://jcle.oxfordjournals.org/content/11/3/549.full.pdf

    Take a look at who contributed financially (double-daggered on the first page):


    To ensure academic freedom and independence, both PCI and IP2, along with all work associated with them, have only been supported by unrestricted gifts. All such work, including this article, reflects the independent views of the authors as academics. Some majore donors have included Microsoft, Pfizer, and Qualcomm.


    (emphasis added)

    He has co-authored papers that defend Microsoft before:

    "EU Antitrust Nonsense": http://www.techpolicy.com/Articles/E/EU-Antitrust-Nonsense.aspx

    "Microsoft’s European Experience Troubling for Other U.S. Companies": http://www.techpolicy.com/Articles/M/Microsoft-s-European-Experience-Troubling-for-Othe.aspx

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 4:17pm

      Re: Take a look at who funded some of his papers

      More personal attacks. Lots of academics on all sides get corporate funding. Can't you address the merits of what he writes?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 6:23am

        Re: Re: Take a look at who funded some of his papers

        Your addressing of merits turns out to be nothing but barnyard impersonations. Hardly someone qualified to lead by example.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous, 5 Oct 2015 @ 5:10pm

    @Glenn D. Jones

    Reading about the professor made me immediately wonder who bought him. Thanks for the answer.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 8:47pm

    Fiction innovates more so than fact

    “The losers from a world without patent litigation would, in the end, be consumers,” said Haber. Inventors won’t innovate unless they can ensure they are paid for their invention, he argued.

    Wrong on so many levels. Innovation.. true innovation is often born of necessity, not profit. An inventor thinks of how to improve the quality of life, not put a tax upon it.

    Perhaps we'd better off if a better example were adopted straight from some fictional story.

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

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 10:26pm

    Someone must be studying it

    I don't see anything there that says his intent is to curtail those "evils".

    Based on his arguments above, I would guess he is a leading proponent of using those tools for the advancement of the interests of incumbent corporations. Specifically, using them to "curtail opportunities", "slow economic progress" and "delay innovation" on the part of upstart corporations such as, for example, Uber.

    It shouldn't be a surprise: someone must be studying how to use these things to suppress competition.

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

  • icon
    Nathan (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 7:49am

    Better for consumers

    Patent trolls mean fewer choices, so it's just like how I give my kid only 2 options when asking what he wants for dinner.

    Prof. Haber is our wise parent!

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

  • identicon
    Kromlin, 8 Oct 2015 @ 11:16am

    Human brain bad at reasoning...

    "they see a need in the market. And the "ensure they are paid for their invention" makes no sense."

    The brain is bad at reasoning and reality, see the science:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYmi0DLzBdQ

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

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  • identicon
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    Once more, with feeling:

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    Who worked as an average ho
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    Kissed down his Chris bod
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    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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