No, Counting The Number Of Patent Infringement Lawsuits Is Not A Good Way To Quantify A Company's IP Ethics

from the look-at-this-high-number-which-is-actually-much-lower-than-several-others! dept

Much has been made about Donald Trump walking back sanctions placed on ZTE, a partly state-owned Chinese cellphone manufacturer, for selling products to Iran and North Korea. (Fun fact: our law enforcement agencies still do business with tech companies that sell to blacklisted countries.) The company has already paid millions of dollars in fines to the US for these violations, even if the working theory is the company paid zero dollars and the Chinese government picked up the tab.

The actual badness of ZTE is somewhere between the extremes resulting in sanctions and the trade war victim it tries to present itself as. Trump is a fan of trade wars, even if Pyrhhic stalemates are still considered righteous wins in the Trade War Game. Trump has decided to lift the US government boot from ZTE's mostly-unbruised neck as a gesture of goodwill or something after slapping the world's largest exporter of consumer goods with a bunch of tariffs that seem to be doing more harm than good on the home front.

And, because it's Trump lifting the sanctions, lots of people are claiming it's unilaterally a bad thing for him to do. This has resulted in some really bad arguments for maintaining sanctions and there's one being made at TechCrunch. It begins with a horrendous attempt to quantify the "terribleness" of ZTE by using an incredibly meaningless stat.

After meeting with Chinese Vice Premiere Liu He this week, President Trump is still considering easing penalties on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE over its violation of sanctions against Iran and North Korea. But what Mr. Trump may not realize is that ZTE is also one of the world’s most notorious intellectual property thieves — perhaps even the most notorious of all.

The Most Notorious Of All!

How does one gain this desirable title? Here's how the Most Notorious sausage in made in the TechCrunch post:

To get a sense of just how egregious ZTE’s behavior truly is, we need only to consult PACER, the national index of federal court cases. A search of PACER reveals that in the U.S. alone, ZTE has been sued for patent infringement an astonishing 126 times just in the last five years. This number is even more shocking when you consider that only a subset of companies who believe their IP rights have been violated by ZTE has the means or the will to spend the millions of dollars needed to wage a multi-year lawsuit in federal courts.

SHOCKING! 126 times in the past five years. The mind boggles… oh wait.

Apple has been sued for patent infringement 296 times over the same period. It must be at least twice the egregious IP violator ZTE is, and no one (outside of the IPWatchdog staff) believes the US government should sanction it.

LG Electronics has been sued 193 times in the same time period -- an 1.5 times more astonishing rate of egregious behavior.

That's just two examples. There are countless more. There may be valid reasons to keep sanctions against ZTE in place, but IP infringement isn't one of them. If it is, there's got to be a better metric than "patent infringement lawsuits filed against." This doesn't indicate anything but how profitable patent trolling can be. Every NPE (non-practicing entity) with a pocket full of vague software patents has filed multiple lawsuits against multiple device manufacturers. The mere existence of dozens of patent lawsuits indicates nothing more than federal filing fees offer decent ROI for patent trolls.

The editorial is on more solid ground (in terms of IP enforcement) when it calls ZTE out for joining a patent pool to collect licensing fees but heading for the exit door as soon as it became apparent it would also have to pay fees to other pool members for making use of their patents.

Claiming lawsuits = valid claims based on solid, distinct patents is a bogus argument. It ignores the expected outcome of a patent troll-friendly litigation system in an attempt to score points against Trump's new favorite Chinese manufacturer. It's not so much disingenuous as it is ignorant. But ignorance gets ignored when confirmation bias comes into play, and those who hate Trump are just as susceptible to being duped by their own minds are his supporters are. If there's a legitimate case to be made against continuing sanctions against ZTE, it's for the company's willingness to sell electronics to blacklisted companies. This argument only legitimizes patent trolling, portraying it as something other than what it really is: speculative invoicing on a mass scale.


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 May 2018 @ 10:43am

    We couldn't find any real evidence of wrongdoing, so we decided to use our screwed up IP laws to make people feel it was justified.

    I await those staunch defenders who will claim there is some difference in the cases against ZTE and Apple...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2018 @ 11:48am

      Re:

      MAGA!!!

      Apple is an american company, while ZTE is a chinese company! Thus attacking Apple is treason, while attacking ZTE is a strike against an enemy.

      National interests are to be protected at all costs!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2018 @ 11:09am

    Bad math

    193 is 0.5 times more than 126, not 1.5 times more.

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

    • icon
      crade (profile), 30 May 2018 @ 11:38am

      Re: Bad math

      I'd say it's the grammar at fault.. should be something like
      "a 1.5 times as astonishing rate of egregious behavior"

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2018 @ 2:24pm

        Re: Re: Bad math

        Basic definitions rather than grammar. "More than" implies an addition, after the multiplication implied by "times". Your fix would work, as would correcting the number.

        The only grammatical error in that sentence was using "an" instead of "a".

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2018 @ 11:34am

    Politics is such a crap fest, and with grifters in the wht hse it becomes even more ridiculous.

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

  • identicon
    bshock, 30 May 2018 @ 11:36am

    I don't know if lifting trade sanctions on ZTE was a bad or good thing in itself, but Trump did this as the result of a pay-off from China. That's the most fundamental corruption we've ever seen in a U.S. president. There are already dozens of legal reasons to impeach Trump, but this alone would be enough... assuming the government wasn't in the hands of people as corrupt as he is.

    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, 30 May 2018 @ 11:49am

      Re: Where is this alleged "pay-off" and how much was it?

      Trump did this as the result of a pay-off from China.

      BIG CITATION NEEDED.

      That's the most fundamental corruption we've ever seen in a U.S. president.

      Wow! This IS news! Again, source? -- Well, it MAY be bigger than the alleged "Trump-Russia collusion", as that has ZERO fact in it.

      Hey, minion: why aren't YOU writing up this "pay-off" and "corruption" rather than nit-picking at whatever site that was?


      There. Now that I've given my opinions without any actual attempt to provoke response, that's just incidental, you COULD just skip over, side effect is that fanboys have target for ad hom, and can mis-use the "Report" button twice. You're welcome.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2018 @ 4:26pm

        Re: Re: Where is this alleged "pay-off" and how much was it?

        Name calling is, by definition, an attempt to provoke a response. Particularly when the same sentence ends in a question mark. All of that is, also by definition, trolling. Flagged.

        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, 30 May 2018 @ 11:42am

    So, you're trying to gin up a flame war with Techcrunch?

    Cause that's buried way down; took me a second time through, trying to guess your point here -- since attracting lawsuits for whatever cause does not indicate a good corporation, either.

    Write more clearerly and with more focusization. You seem to have jumped into usual anti-Trump rant, then when noticed it turning a tiny bit pro-Trump, went back and got angry at your source for that, so wrote against it instead. Result is not much instigating.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2018 @ 12:05pm

    Maybe not quantify IP ethics, but can it quantify company control by space lizards?!?

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 30 May 2018 @ 1:05pm

      Re:

      How would that work? The more times a company's been sued the greater the odds that they are run by space lizards, with brave defenders of the earth trying to bring them down, or the more times they've been sued the better odds that they are run by said defenders and the space lizards are trying to bring them down?

      It's an important question to be sure, can't be too careful with the space lizard threat, I mean even WIPO takes them seriously.

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

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 30 May 2018 @ 1:15pm

    While how any IP suits a company has been hit by isn't a good measure of its ethicality, how many IP lawsuits it has filed perhaps could be - in an inverse-proportional kind of way.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 30 May 2018 @ 1:30pm

      Re:

      True enough, but that would require the ones making the judgement to admit that it's possible for IP lawsuits to be made it bad faith, which I suspect would be a bit too much for some of them as it would undermine the system by making it clear that it can be abused and easily at that.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2018 @ 8:08pm

    If you don't want to be guilty of getting sued for patent infringement you can always become a patent troll. Then you can be the good guy that sues everyone for patent infringement but you never get sued because you never do anything wrong because you don't produce anything.

    But if you ever produce something useful be prepared to get sued no matter what. Because everything you do is covered by some patent. This makes you the bad guy for infringing.

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


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