by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
doj, ftc

barnes and noble

Barnes & Noble's Filing Clearly Explains Why The Patent System Is Broken And How To Fix It

from the now-if-only-someone-would-listen dept

Via Groklaw, we learn of Barnes & Noble's excellent filing with the FTC and DOJ concerning the problems of today's patent system, and some suggestions on how to fix it. You can read the full filing on the FTC's site. In recent years, the FTC has grown increasingly concerned about our broken patent system, in particular about patent trolls -- which they prefer to call "patent assertion entities" (i.e., businesses who exist solely to use patents in to seek money from others). And, more recently, the FTC has teamed up with the DOJ to see if there's anything that can be done to help fix the situation.

As Groklaw notes, the B&N filing is clear, concise and highly readable. It outlines the problem directly:
The patent system is broken. Barnes & Noble alone has been sued by "non practicing entities"—a/k/a patent trolls—well over twenty-five times and received an additional twenty-plus patent claims in the last five years. The claimants do not have products and are not competitors. They assert claims for the sole purpose of extorting money. Companies like Barnes & Noble have to choose between paying extortionate ransoms and settling the claim, or fighting in a judicial system ill equipped to handle baseless patent claims at costs that frequently reach millions of dollars.
As they point out clearly, even when they have a very strong case -- either when they don't infringe and/or when the patent is bogus, a lawsuit is incredibly costly in terms of time, money and effort.
In the current system, patent trolls overwhelm operating companies with baseless litigation that is extremely costly to defend. Patent cases generally cost at least $2M to take through trial, and frequently much more. Litigating, even to victory, also entails massive business disruption. Companies are forced to disclose their most sensitive and top-secret technical and financial information and must divert key personnel from critical business tasks to provide information and testimony. The process is exceptionally burdensome, especially on technical staff. Document discovery and depositions seem endless.

Patent trolls know this and as a result, they sue companies in droves and make settlement demands designed to maximize their financial take while making it cheaper and less painful to settle than to devote the resources necessary to defeat their claims. The current system lets them do so even with claims that are unlikely to prevail on the merits. That is because, whether win lose or draw, the rules effectively insulate trolls from negative consequences except perhaps a lower return than expected from any given company in any given case. They can sue on tenuous claims and still come out ahead. And so the broken system with its attendant leverage allows trolls to extract billions in blackmail from U.S. companies and, in the final analysis, consumers.
One of the great things about the filing is that it reminds the FTC and the DOJ of the constitutional underpinnings of patent law -- not that patents are required or guaranteed, but that their purpose is to promote the progress of the useful arts. If that is not happening, then the use of patents in such a manner should be seen as unconstitutional.
The Patent and Copyright Clause grants Congress the power "[t]o...promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts," not science fiction and litigious arts. (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 (emphasis added)). But the current system allows trolls to pursue fantastic allegations—claims that would be laughed out of the room in actual scientific or technical circles—in endless litigation that taxes and taxes true innovators while making no meaningful contribution to society. Barnes & Noble's experience exemplifies this and industry data confirms it. See, e.g., James Bessen & Michael J. Meurer, "The Direct Costs from NPE Disputes" at 2, Boston Univ. School of Law Working Paper No. 12–34 (June 28, 2012) (available at 2091210) (estimating direct costs of troll litigation on economy at $29 billion for 2011 based upon study that included data from 82 companies and finding additional empirical support for earlier conclusion that "much of the cost borne by technology companies as they defend against NPE lawsuits is a social loss and not a mere transfer"). The system has lost its true north.
As the company notes, while it's been sued by more than two dozen trolls, and has spent tens of millions of dollars defending itself against them in court, not a single court ruling has come out against Barnes & Noble and in favor of the trolls. Whenever we talk about patent trolls, some troll supporters show up in the comments to insist that the companies complaining have clearly infringed and should just pay up. And yet, once again, we see that's clearly not true. But Barnes & Noble still has to spend all that money defending itself, and not innovating and providing more value to the public.

Barnes & Noble goes on to point out not just how ridiculous some of the patents are, but also how the trolls keep on fighting and demanding money, even after they have lost the case:
Even the most plainly baseless lawsuits are expensive and can take years to defeat. In at least four cases, Barnes & Noble has faced litigation by patentees asserting the same theories on which they previously lost. In one case, for example, Barnes & Noble is alleged to infringe patents because uses the HTML language and returns search results other than exact matches. The patentee asserted these allegations against Barnes & Noble despite having tried and lost a case against other ecommerce retailers based on the same functional allegations levied against their websites. In two of these four cases, the patentees ceased pursuing claims against Barnes & Noble once the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed their earlier losses. But in two others, the appeals are not yet final and although Barnes & Noble has filed dispositive motions, the litigations have carried on actively for years.

In two other recent cases, Barnes & Noble achieved victory at the district court level on summary judgment. In one such case, the Court awarded Barnes & Noble its costs—but the total awarded was less than $50K. The company expended millions to achieve that victory, but attorneys’ and expert fees are not recoverable as a matter of course.

Appeals routinely follow summary judgment victories, and Barnes & Noble's experience has been no exception. The Federal Circuit now has a mandatory mediation program. In that program, Barnes & Noble has received demands for substantial settlement payments—even in cases that it won below. One such demand, for example, exceeded $3M. The settlement demands that patent trolls make on appeal, particularly in the wake of complete defeat, have nothing to do with the merits. They underscore the uncertainty and expense that accompany appeals and potential retrials in patent cases.

In a growing number of cases, patentees sue Barnes & Noble on multiple patents only to drop one or more of them before trial. This practice underscores that many patent claims are not made in good faith. Rather, plaintiffs frequently assert patents for additional leverage to force companies to expend significant resources mounting a defense on multiple fronts even when they know they will not ultimately prevail.

Barnes & Noble and other technology companies see countless lawsuits in which the asserted patents purport to cover products and technologies common to the entire industry. We face repeated allegations that anyone using Wi-Fi, anyone using 3G, anyone using MP3, anyone with an e-commerce website, anyone using Ethernet, and, recently, anyone using InfiniBand technology, to name a few, is infringing and must pay a hefty price to license purportedly essential patents. The allegations sweep far beyond specific innovations to which a patent might legitimately lay claim.
I recognize I'm quoting extensively from the filing, but it really is that good and deserves to have so much of it highlighted.

At the end, Barnes & Noble suggests five specific fixes that it believes would help minimize the problems of the patent system. I agree with many of the suggestions, though still think they could go somewhat further. Let's look at the five suggestions.
Require Losing Patentees to Pay Costs and Expenses, Including Attorneys' Fees
This is basically B&N coming out in support of the SHIELD Act, the law currently proposed in Congress that would do exactly what's described above. Obviously, this would help in the situations where trolls are asserting clearly bogus patents hoping that companies will settle to avoid the cost of the litigation. It is not a perfect solution, but one that would likely hold back some of the worst trolling activities. It's interesting to note that the filing also suggests allowing such fee shifting for situations in which a troll files a lawsuit over a particular patent, but later drops that patent from the lawsuit. Often, we've seen that such bogus claims are made merely to drive up the cost of defending the lawsuit, even though even the trolls know the patent in question has nothing to do with the actions of whoever is being sued.
Require Actual Reduction to Practice and Commercialization
I know this one is popular among many patent system critics, and I can understand the argument for it. It would, certainly limit significant amounts of patent trolling. My main concern with this one, however, is that if you can envision a good patent (and I know some argue there's no such thing, but let's assume it's possible), perhaps the patent holder isn't in a position to commercialize the invention. Where I would support this is with a small tweak: that the either the patent holder has commercialized it or they've partnered with someone else who has done so. That one tweak would make this quite useful in stamping out patent trolling.

Also, as B&N points out, this requirement serves another important purpose: limiting outrageous attempts to stretch what a patent really covers, including taking a very minor thing and pretending that it's of central importance to a completely different invention. When a defendant can point to how the patent holder actually commercialized the offering, it's much easier to highlight how the patent holder clearly wasn't trying to cover what the defendant eventually did.
Cap Damages at the Amount Paid to Acquire a Patent
This is another interesting suggestion -- and one that I haven't seen much discussion about. Barnes & Noble's argument appears to be that a troll, who has purchased the patent and has no interest in bringing a product to market, doesn't have any real "damages" other than the cost it took to acquire the patent. Furthermore, since the nature of patent trolling usually involves paying a rather small amount for the patent itself, before spinning around and claiming hundreds of millions in "damages," this would certainly help take away a big incentive to patent trolling.

That said, frankly, this one is a bit less compelling. Patent system supporters will argue, perhaps reasonably, that the "damages" are the loss of relevant licensing revenue. And that could possibly make sense, though in most trolling cases, it's unlikely that there's any real likelihood of licensing fees making sense.
Require Clear and Convincing Proof that an Invention is New and Non-obvious for a Patent to Issue
I've been a big supporter of this argument for years. The Patent Office is just really bad on this front, issuing all sorts of bad patents on a regular basis. In part, this is because there is no such thing as an adversarial hearing in determining if a patent should be issued. There's just one side. On top of that, the incentives for the patent examiner is to approve patents, not to reject them. So we get a ton of bad patents. If we raised the bar for what's patentable while also putting the burden on the patent applicant to provide a high level of proof, that would help to reject many bad patents.

And this wouldn't be a real "change," rather it would be bringing the patent system in line with where it's supposed to be. Already, patent law requires that an invention be both new and non-obvious. Yet, patent examiners don't really do a good job making sure it is both of those things. They may look at some prior art, but often miss tremendous amounts of compelling prior art showing that the invention has already been done before.

My bigger complaint has been the lack of real "obviousness" testing by the Patent Office. Right now, they mostly just look at prior art to see if they can show if the new invention was anticipated by previous inventions. But patent art is really what applies to whether or not something is new, not whether or not it's "obvious." While the two may seem related, they may not be. As an example to help illustrate the differences: imagine a world in which lots of people are thinking about how to stream video online, but they're held back by a lack of bandwidth. As bandwidth naturally increases over time, the video streaming becomes technologically feasible. In that case, the technology to create the stream is not complicated -- the factor that was holding it back wasn't the lack of a compelling invention or breakthrough, but rather waiting for an ancillary technology -- broadband -- to catch up.

In that case, you could argue that the "invention" is new, but that it's also obvious. That's harder to show via prior art, but should be clearly understandable to those with actual knowledge or experience in the field.

On this point of obviousness, I'd also go one step further, as I've advocated in the past: introducing both an independent inventor's defense and the ability to use evidence of independent invention as evidence of obviousness, since multiple players all reached the same place separately. This makes sense in that it also stops the patent system from destroying the value of the work that every other innovator, who was not the patent holder, did to get to that point.
Keep Trolls Out of the ITC
This is another good one. As we've talked about for years, patent holders get a ridiculous two cracks at making life difficult for those they claim are infringing. First in the courts, and a second time at the ITC, where the rules are different. The ITC can't order monetary fines, but it can issue injunctions that will block products from being imported into the US, which can be a very big deal for many companies. Not too long ago, trolls rarely went to the ITC, as it was believed that you had to be actually selling the invention in question to make use of that path -- but after trolls convinced the ITC that patent licensing itself could be counted as having a "domestic industry" that needs protecting, patent trolls have been flooding the ITC.

Barnes & Noble reasonably suggests a return to the previous way things were where the ITC can only take part when there's an actual product being produced.

All in all a really great filing and some fantastic suggestions, though personally I'd push for that independent inventor defense, combined with independent invention being evidence of obviousness. Hopefully, the FTC, DOJ and others pay attention.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Sneeje (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:00am

    What if...

    What if the patent office did not review any patents until they were asserted? Couple this with the request from B&N to "Require Losing Patentees to Pay Costs and Expenses, Including Attorneys' Fees" and you might have a solution.

    If the patent were strong and likely to stand up to scrutiny, it would be worth litigating over it. Otherwise, you take the chance that it is invalidated (and you pay fees). In the meantime, after submission, but before assertion and review, the patent is nothing more than a claim staked (similar to a scientific paper) for credit.

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

  2. icon
    Ninja (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:01am

    It's very reasonable. And coming from a bigger company means that things are going pretty bad in the patent litigation field. As it gets more and more nuclear and damages get past what the deeper pockets can sustain we'll see more of it. Too bad a lot of startup casualties will happen meanwhile.

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

  3. icon
    Vidiot (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:05am

    Hope this one sticks

    Seemingly, a respected American business pleading its case in thorough, rational matter.

    But what will it take to generate action around this? Is it just headed for the "empty rhetoric" file, like so many position papers and amicus briefs?

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

  4. identicon
    Aliasundercover, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:05am

    Patents and Trolls Merely Part of the Problem

    Clearly court practice is as much at fault here as bogus patents and greedy trolls. Our courts impose discovery without first weeding out baseless claims and allow that discovery to be excessively wide ranging and costly. This is a large part of the troll's leverage as defending at all costs millions.

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

  5. icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:22am

    Re: What if...

    What if the patent office did not review any patents until they were asserted?

    Asserted how? A lawsuit? A pre-lawsuit settlement/demand letter? If the latter, how to prevent the inevitable abuse?

    I'll agree that the assumption of patent validity needs to change, but the end goal needs to be to stop granting bad patents (or any patents at all).

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:30am


    while i agree with your sentiment, B&N is, unfortunatly, not a "big" company. it falls well below most of the others, being burdened with wide recognition, but not an equal revenue.

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

  7. identicon
    Shmerl, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:36am

    > Patent cases generally cost at least $2M to take through trial, and frequently much more.

    Can anyone explain please, what this price consists of? Prior art research time or something else? For those who aren't in the legal sphere these prices look completely bizarre.

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

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:39am

    'Hopefully, the FTC, DOJ and others pay attention.'

    you have got to be kidding! as there is going to be some work required, particularly by Congress to mend these laws which are as broken as the copyright laws, nothing will be done. they will continue sitting back and raking in the donations made by the companies that are exploiting things at the moment.

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  9. identicon
    Shmerl, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:42am

    On a side note, why did B&N settle with MS? While MS aren't NPE, they are still racketeers. Term troll denotes the fact of racket more than the fact that racketeer doesn't produce anything. So Microsoft also can be called patent trolls, and one of the most notorious ones.

    While initially B&N were fighting with them, they gave up at some point.

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  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:46am

    They should ban lawsuits if the person who is trolling does nothing more than troll. If they're not giving back with their patent "making a product" they should not have the right to harass and extort those who do.

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:55am

    It's a simple fix, If you buy a patent, you can not sue over it, unless you produce what ever the patent covers.

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

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:56am


    A small team can cost that, remember those cases last years to be resolved.

    A 3 person team with an anual salary of $50 K would be $150 K per year of litigation, those things tend to go on for 5 to 10 years so that is about $750 K ~ $1.5 million just to keep it going, there are also court fees, research, consultants and other costs, it is not cheap to mount a decent defense.

    You can do it cheaply though, pro-se exist for that matter, but you should look around on Google for "funny pro se fillings" or "pro se horror stories" before going down that way, courts have their own subculture, you have to first understand that to get it mostly right because what seems obvious and certain is not in legal forums.

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  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:57am

    Why should the federal government promote the useful arts and sciences as spelled out in the constitution when it is in the habit of breaking all the other parts of the constitution?

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 11:01am

    You know things are bad when even Barn & Nobles start complaining.

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

  15. icon
    Atkray (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 11:05am


    from the article:

    "In one such case, the Court awarded Barnes & Noble its costs—but the total awarded was less than $50K. The company expended millions to achieve that victory, but attorneys’ and expert fees are not recoverable as a matter of course."

    Looks like the lawyers get most of it.

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

  16. icon
    Atkray (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 11:14am

    Re: What if...

    Your suggestion mad me think along a similar line,

    What if you can only sue once for a patent.

    If you need to sue more than one other company it is prima facie evidence of obviousness and the patent is invalid.

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

  17. icon
    DannyB (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 11:25am

    What does NPE stand for again?

    Whenever the distasteful subject of patent trolls is discussed, I keep seeing the abbreviation NPE used with no explanation of what it means.

    Nasty Patent Extortionist?

    It seems to me the term Patent Troll easier to say, and doesn't sully the reputation of ordinary extortionists either.

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 11:34am

    Re: What does NPE stand for again?

    Non-practicing entity (I think, been awhile). Non-practicing as in they don't make anything other than lawyer bills.

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

  19. icon
    iambinarymind (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 11:41am

    Better Idea....

    Abolish patent law, copyright law, and trademark law.

    These types of laws are antithetical to real self-ownership derived property rights.

    For further understanding do a search for "stephan kinsella against intellectual property".

    I prefer consensual relationships and voluntary exchange.

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

  20. icon
    Sneeje (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 11:45am

    Re: Re: What if...

    Yes, I mean asserted through a lawsuit. That's pretty much the only way to "use" a patent TMK other than perhaps the passive effect of others knowing you could assert it.

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

  21. identicon
    AbbaDabba, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 11:46am

    I just wonder....

    Makes you wonder if the defense attorneys being paid the millions to defend these baseless suits aren't stoking the fires somehow to increase their business. I'm just saying....

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

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 11:49am

    Re: Re: Re: What if...

    So, everything is 'approved' until asserted?

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

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 12:06pm

    Re: What if...

    The "Require Losing Patentees to Pay Costs and Expenses, Including Attorneys' Fees" works in Europe so it is pretty tried and true. However, there is a huge economic donor for the democrats called "trial lawyers against tort reform". They proclaim that tort as it exist is a right they have and reducing it would be abuse:

    As long as you cannot in some way limit the tort level a bit (disregarding that the republican way is counter-intuitive and doesn't solve the inherent problem), you cannot justify the loser pays that is truely needed. All in all it is a locked situation politically as long as these donors expend millions to political campaigns. Obama has been wobbly on the issue and hopefully fall his supporters in the back to get the needed "change". I am, however, not holding my breath.

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

  24. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 12:32pm

    Re: What if...

    What if the patent office did not review any patents until they were asserted?

    I'm not convinced that they do review any patents, at least not in a meaningful way.

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

  25. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 12:33pm

    Re: Re:

    What is your definition of a "big" company, then?

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

  26. identicon
    Mr. Applegate, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 12:34pm

    Re: I just wonder....

    Makes you wonder if the defense attorneys being paid the millions to defend these baseless suits aren't stoking the fires somehow to increase their business. I'm just saying....
    Naw, that would never happen, nor does it need to.

    For full details see Prenda Law (they know how it is done, they were just dumb enough to get caught).

    Believe me I have law firms as clients and the law firms have no shortage of clients wanting to bring suit.

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

  27. icon
    Sneeje (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 12:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: What if...

    Yeah (treated more like trademarks), I realize that seems problematic, but what I'm hoping would happen would be that bad patents would stop being filed in the first place when they realized the amount of scrutiny they would undergo if they tried to actually use them.

    This all assumes that the quality of the review would go WAY up.

    There are other behaviors I think would occur:
    - I think companies would file lots and lots of patents at least initially.
    - I think some companies/individuals would probably ignore others' patents assuming they would not assert them (but this would be a good outcome if those patents were of the quality today)

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

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 12:47pm

    IP law is theft and needs to be done away with.

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

  29. icon
    Sneeje (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 1:12pm

    Re: Re: What if...


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

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 1:13pm

    Re: What if...

    There would be so many patents filed that finding the valid patents would be next to impossible. This would leave the innovators with the only option be proceed until sued, with the trolls still able to extort money. Offshore shell companies avoid having to pay if the troll loses. You could still be bankrupted while winning every case, and the troll would be able to bring more of them.

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

  31. icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 1:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What if...

    While I think some of that is likely in regards to actual lawsuits, how does that help deal with the extortinate tactics used by trolls against small businesses (ie Lodsys or that network scanner troll)? How are those businesses to know that the threat letter demanding thousands of dollars (or take your chances hiring a lawyer for tens of thousands or more) is using a patent that has not been reviewed or examined in any way before being granted?

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

  32. icon
    Gothenem (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 1:49pm


    I have to disagree, however, I do think it needs to be completely re-done, right from the beginning. IP protection DOES have some value, however, it needs to be set up to spur on innovation, and not allow the stifling of free speech or criticism.

    The current system is an unmitigated disaster, but I disagree that scrapping all IP laws is the way to go.

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

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 2:02pm

    Make practicing more profitable than patenting

    It does seem that we've gone down a bad road with the notion that having ideas should itself be profitable as opposed to putting ideas profitably into practice.

    In other words, the economic benefit of innovation should derive exclusively (or at least mostly) from exploiting that innovation in practice.

    Perhaps patents could use a system like that which governs making cover versions of songs. Anybody can cover any song by paying a statutory license fee. That way inventors can still make money (and be incentivized) but real practicing entities can exploit the innovations without being extorted. There would be no expensive lawsuits. Under such a system, innovators might have incentive to create more innovations, rather than milking a single idea for as much and as long as possible.

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

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 2:50pm



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

  35. icon
    DannyB (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 2:59pm

    Re: Re: What does NPE stand for again?

    Yes, see the link I included for NPE. :-)

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

  36. icon
    Austin (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 4:21pm

    Minor tweak...

    I like all of these options on some level, but the second one is an issue: Require Actual Reduction to Practice and Commercialization

    When you file for a patent in the first place, you're doing so BEFORE production begins. This is almost a universal truth, since after production has already started, if you have not yet patented your own product, someone else will do so immediately and then sue you - another sort of troll. We'll call them Ice Trolls. (What can I say? I play a lot of Skyrim!)

    So perhaps this would suffice:

    Either require production, or else, if none can be shown within 2 years, a single motion can be filed and all the money ordered returned, with interest.

    This allows genuine, valid patents to still prevent infringement while their product is finishing development but gives defendants a fair remedy against trolls who are no more likely to begin production in 2 years than they were when they filed the suit.

    Other than this though, I love all these suggestions.

    Surprised to see this from B&N. Happy, but surprised.

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

  37. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 4:58pm

    Re: Minor tweak...

    I would counter that before you apply for a patent on $thing, you should actually have the thing invented, even if only at a prototype stage. If you cannot produce, on demand, an implementation of all the independent claims in the patent application, and only the claims in the application, it should be denied.

    On a related note, I think you should only be able to sue over patent infringement if *all* of the independent claims of the patent are being infringed. If even 1 of the independent claims is not being infringed then you are not guilty of infringing on the patent.

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

  38. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 5:21pm


    IIRC, B&N were having financial problems at the time, and MS knew its case was weak and about to be ripped to shreds by a company that had enough spine to fight back, so MS cut B&N a check, and B&N's will to fight magically dissolved.

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

  39. identicon
    horse with no name, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 7:53pm

    raising the bar

    So the idea here is that you can't patent something unless you have the money to actually build it and make it work perfectly? So research for the sake of base development is out, because you can't make a working model?

    Sounds like B&N made a self serving post that supports their position of having lots of money to work with.

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

  40. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 11:49pm

    Missing usual suspects

    Interesting. I've just read through all the comments and not one is from ootb, average_joe or their ilk. Usually at least one of them is first to comment. Maybe defending this is too much, even for them.

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

  41. identicon
    Dan Meadows, May 1st, 2013 @ 2:09am

    deeper problems

    While I totally get where B&N is coming from, there are deeper issues at work here. The practice of civil lawsuit abuse is rampant. Whenever someone proposes tort reform, there's always reference to the woman who sued McDonald's for spilling hot coffee on herself, but most often, the deeper threat is from large, wealthy entities against smaller competitors. It's a far too common practice for smaller competitors to be subjected to baseless or extremely tenuous lawsuits simply to force their necessarily limited resources to be used for legal defense rather than competition. In these cases, "winning" for a plaintiff is defined by the size of the defendent's legal bills rather than an actual judgement in their favor.

    There's also the RIAA style copyright lawsuits that stem from insider lobbying to enshrine into law statutory damages far in excess of reality, then file mass suits with ready-made settlement terms of a few thousand dollars simultaneously. There is clearly little or no intent whatsoever to actually litigate these suits, only extort a settlement based on fears of worst-case damages manufactured by the plantiff themselves. Both of these methods also rely on judicial or jury ignorance of sometimes complex matters of technology or law, something clearly apparent in early decisions any time there's a lawsuit involving a new, disruptive tech.

    Patent law is not performing the function it was intended, but the judicial side of the equation has made the problem infinitely worse by allowing plainly baseless or exploitative lawsuits to go forward, costing absurd sums of money and putting the honus on defendents to fend off attacks of little or no credibility and no means to hold the abusive party accountable. Everyone deserves their day in court, but there needs to be a much higher threshhold of evidence to even allow many of these suits to take place, especially in circumstances where an imbalance in resources between parties creates the very real possibility of wielding the civil law system as a competitive weapon or a thinly-veiled method of extortion rather than simply a manner of redress.

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

  42. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2013 @ 3:46am

    there's one problem I can see with requiring actual reduction to practice and commercialization: patents were originally created to deal with companies that, when an inventor approached them about a new invention, refused to partner with the inventor and then turned around and commercalized the invention without the inventor being involved. f there was a requirement to commercalize the invention first, it would functionally ruin this aim of patents.

    I'd go further than panentee pays if they lose though, and make it simple loser pays. why? because it avoids the situation of a small patentee being strong-armed by a massive infringer.

    damages cap: it'd need to be drawn up properly (specifically, it'd need to specifically exclude companies that had filed for the patent rather than buying it. After all, if damages were capped at the filing fee...)

    requiring clear and convincing proof before patent issues: no argument here, should never have stopped being the case.

    keep trolls out of the ITC: actually, I would use a different tweak. Specifically, make it that an ITC ruling cannot contradict a court case. ( aka, if you've already won in court, the ITC automatically rules in your favor. If the ITC came first, then their decision is overruled if the court finds it non-infringing) why? because it removes the actual abuse (using the ITC when a court has already ruled it non-infringing) while not affecting legitimte inventors.

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

  43. icon
    Sneeje (profile), May 1st, 2013 @ 4:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What if...

    I don't know, it is possible it might not help with that. The whole idea hinges on both the review (after assertion) being of high quality and the ability to be awarded fees if the defendant prevails.

    I realize your example covers groups that would never have the money to go to court in the first place though. One deterrent would be the fact that those groups also would not be a huge source of revenue either--the trolls would have to pursue many of them to make significant amounts of money and its likely one of them would challenge them in court.

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

  44. icon
    Sneeje (profile), May 1st, 2013 @ 4:40am

    Re: Re: What if...

    I realize that is a possible outcome but I was thinking that would only be what happened initially. If the review quality went WAY up (because the number of reviews went WAY down), it would become very clear what patents were likely to be validated by the USPTO and therefore once asserted, the defendant would have a clearer idea of whether the patent they were being threatened with was going to be thrown out.

    Instead of only reviewing when a case is file, what if the plaintiffs could not file in court until the review was complete?

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

  45. identicon
    staff, May 1st, 2013 @ 9:01am

    more dissembling by Masnick

    “patent troll”

    infringers and their paid puppets’ definition of ‘patent troll’:

    anyone who has the nerve to sue us for stealing their invention

    The patent system now teeters on the brink of lawlessness. Call it what you will...patent hoarder, patent troll, non-practicing entity, shell company, etc. It all means one thing: “we’re using your invention and we’re not going to stop or pay”. This is just dissembling by large invention thieves and their paid puppets to kill any inventor support system. It is purely about legalizing theft. The fact is, many of the large multinationals and their puppets who defame inventors in this way themselves make no products in the US or create any American jobs and it is their continued blatant theft which makes it impossible for the true creators to do so. To them the only patents that are legitimate are their own -if they have any.

    It’s about property rights. They should not only be for the rich and powerful. Show me a country with weak or ineffective property rights and I’ll show you a weak economy with high unemployment. If we cannot own the product of our minds or labors, what can we be said to truly own. Life and liberty are fundamentally tied to and in fact based on property rights. Our very lives are inseparably tied to our property. Large multinational corporations are on the brink of destroying the American dream -our ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps from the working classes by building our own companies while making better futures for our children and our communities.

    Prior to eBay v Mercexchange, small entities had a viable chance at commercializing their inventions. If the defendant was found guilty, an injunction was most always issued. Then the inventor small entity could enjoy the exclusive use of his invention in commercializing it. Unfortunately, injunctions are often no longer available to small entity inventors because of the Supreme Court decision so we have no fair chance to compete with much larger entities who are now free to use our inventions. Essentially, large infringers now have your gun and all the bullets. Worse yet, inability to commercialize means those same small entities will not be hiring new employees to roll out their products and services. And now those same parties who killed injunctions for small entities and thus blocked their chance at commercializing now complain that small entity inventors are not commercializing. They created the problem and now they want to blame small entities for it. What dissembling! If you don’t like this state of affairs (your unemployment is running out), tell your Congress member. Then maybe we can get some sense back into the patent system with injunctions fully enforceable on all infringers by all patentees, large and small.

    Those wishing to help fight big business giveaways should contact us as below and join the fight as we are building a network of inventors and other stakeholders to lobby Congress to restore property rights for all patent owners -large and small.

    For the truth about trolls, please see

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

  46. icon
    Steph Kennedy, IPTT (profile), May 1st, 2013 @ 9:55am

    " but also how the trolls keep on fighting and demanding money, even after they have lost the case:"

    This is what Neiman Marcus is facing with IP Nav. A judge eviscerated them in 2011, yet here they are suing the same company again. It's ridiculous.

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

  47. icon
    Steph Kennedy, IPTT (profile), May 1st, 2013 @ 9:59am

    Re: more dissembling by Masnick

    I would dearly love to read the truth about trolls, but got tripped up by the incorrect use of the word "allusive" in the first paragraph of your first link. I think the word you wanted was "elusive"?

    I wouldn't argue that some large entities are part of the problem, but I *would* argue that point with better grammar.

    Just sayin',


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

  48. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2013 @ 11:05am

    Re: Re: more dissembling by Masnick

    That same page is emblazoned at the top with a Motherf***ing Eagle from the USPTO in an effort to make it look official.

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

  49. icon
    Mark Syman (profile), May 1st, 2013 @ 8:06pm

    Patent thieves of the world - Unite !

    The hysteria against patents only serves to enrich the large companies that want to steal inventions. These companies have large resources in finance and marketing and the last thing they want to do is pay for the inventions of small companies, especially the small companies that are being beaten in the marketplace.

    Go ahead, start a small tech company and see how nice Oracle, Google, and IBM will be to you. Don't think they will ever want to pay you to use your technology.

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

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