Patent Trolls: Good or Bad?

Patent Trolling.  The term, in itself, just sounds bad.  The word “troll” is nearly always used in a negative light, and the word has a connotation that negatively reflects the nickname.  According to Hunter, most patents are “twenty-year federally mandated monopolies on a novel, non obvious, useful invention”.  A patent troll is a person or business who takes advantage of this law by filing for patents of which they have no intention of using.  These patent holders then sue corporations or businesses that develop the product or a similar product, sometimes without the knowledge that a patent for the technology already exists.  The corporations usually choose to settle with the patent trolls instead of going through the legal actions.   The patent trolls get their money, which keeps these trolls around.  There’s another side to patent trolling, however, which makes this subject so controversial.  These trolls help the little start up companies prosper and grow, which I will explain later in this post.

First, to touch again briefly on the harm that patent trolls cause, we must delve deeper into the numbers.  Like I previously touched upon, patent trolls file for patents with the sole purpose to sue people who breach their “monopoly”.  According to pcmag.com, which recapped a recent John Oliver show, lawsuits having to do with big corporations and patents cost companies an average of 5 million dollars per suit.  The patent trolls offer a settlement of on average 2 million dollars, which forces the corporation’s hand into paying them the money.  According to pcmag.com, those lawsuits summed up to over half a trillion dollars last year.  This is money that could have been used to progress our industry forward.  The patent laws are in place to progress us, not hold us back like big corporations are arguing patent trolls are doing.

On the flip side, however, some people argue that patent trolls can be good for society.  The trolls help the entrepreneurs, the little guys in the industry who would have their ideas stolen by big corporations.  Patent trolls, for the most part, only go after the large corporations, since these are the people who have the money to pay them in settlements.  Thus, the entrepreneurs can freely use their patents to help build up their company, exactly why the patent law was put in place.  As IPwatchdog.com rightly says,  “All that has happened is that the playing field in intellectual property has been leveled out- a bit- in favor of entities in the market that don’t have the luxury of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to propagate Congress by giving them only their side of the story.”  With patent trolls “trolling” the big businesses, the smaller ones can push their own ideas forward.

As you can see, patent law is an extremely controversial subject.  On one hand, the trolls are benefiting from a law that was not meant to benefit them.  They are taking advantage of a system in place to promote industry, and, one could argue, are stifling that same industry the law is supposed to promote.  On the other hand, however, one could also argue that patent trolls are actually helping to drive industry forward by putting a leash on big businesses who have the money to control the little businesses.  In turn, industry is driven.  In my opinion, I think patent trolls are a necessary evil.  I don’t believe in their agenda, and their get-rich-quick schemes.  However, as a person who hopes to be a successful entrepreneur, patent trolls give me a fighting chance to promote a future idea, without having that idea stolen away from me.  The subject is touchy, but I vote that patent trolls should stay.

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2482263,00.asp, Stephanie Milot, PC Magazine, 4/20/2015,4/29/2015

http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2013/12/10/the-other-side-of-the-debate-over-patent-trolls/id=46671/, Joel Benjamin,  IP WatchDog, 12/10/2013, 4/29/2015

Intellectual Property, Dan Hunter, Oxford University Press, 2012, 4/29/2015

Peter

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