from the good-news dept
Over the last few years it’s been great to see a number of useful law school clinics pop up, focused on taking on key issues of our modern era. While law clinics have been around for a while, those focused on issues raised by technological change and innovation are quite useful. We’ve seen things like the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley, the Online Media Legal Network at Harvard, the Brooklyn Law Incubator and Policy Clinic and a number of others popping up. However, most of these have been focused on copyright and free speech issues. There really hadn’t been that much done on the patent front that we can recall.
So it’s exciting to see a bunch of law schools teaming up with the App Developers Alliance (full disclosure: they have been, and continue to be, a sponsor for Techdirt) to launch the Law School Patent Troll Defense Network. It’s bringing together a variety of existing law school clinics, including Brooklyn Law School, American University, NYU Law, USC and more, to help app developers and small businesses fight off patent trolls. This is a big deal since trolls have increasingly been targeting these guys. We’ve covered, for example the lawsuits by Lodsys, which seems to take great joy in shaking down app developers with highly questionable patent threats.
The biggest issue with these shakedown attempts, which pretty much everyone recognizes, is that the cost of “settling” is much, much cheaper than the cost of fighting, even if the patent claim is ridiculous. And, much of that “cost” is in paying for lawyers. There are some lawyers willing to take cases on a pro bono setup, but that’s much rarer when it comes to patent disputes, which are generally seen as “corporate” disputes, rather than directly impacting individuals (even though many small businesses and app developers really are just a single person). So, the setup here will allow app developers who have been threatened to work with the network to try to find law clinics willing to help out and defend against bogus threats from patent trolls.
While there are huge structural problems with the patent system that need to be fixed, in the short term, lowering the potential liability and burden for a company hit with a threatening shakedown letter from a patent troll can be very helpful in avoiding having companies just rolling over and paying up.