The Troll Under The Bridge

The Idea:

We all know the children’s story about the troll that lives under a bridge. To cross the bridge a toll must be paid to the troll. The troll is nasty, greedy, and mean. The heroes of the story tried to find other paths to get across without having to deal with the troll, but there were no other options. The troll had to be slayed or out-tricked. While this story is child’s play, it is very similar to the problematic patent troll situation damaging the world of innovation.

The Definition:

A patent can be obtained for anything that demonstrates a significant level of creativity and innovation. It must be a nonobvious and original invention. The US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) reviews patent applications and has the power to approve or deny legal protection. If a patent is obtained, the unlawful use or copying of the idea or invention is called infringement. This is punishable by law. Just because something is distinctive to a certain product does not mean it qualifies as a patentable feature. Apple has tried to get many design patents for its products but has not been successful in obtaining a large number of the patents they seek. One of Apple’s patented inventions is the scroll wheel on the iPod.

Patent Trolls:

Patent trolls are like cyber squatters. They hold the idea/invention ransom in order to make money from a company who wants to use it. “Instead of rewarding innovators, the patent system has been hijacked by trolls who prey on small businesses and startups, extorting licensing fees with claims that they are infringing often obscure, old and vaguely-worded patents. As I have written elsewhere, companies targeted by trolls often have no choice but to pay the ransom or be forced into costly and time-consuming litigation” (usnews.com) . It is easy to picture these patent trolls as recluses who live in their parent’s dingy basements. However, a significant number of patent trolls are big technology companies like Microsoft. “Some of Microsoft’s patent holdings are relatively well-known, since they are either assigned to Microsoft itself or a known subsidiary of Microsoft. But Microsoft over the years has grown very close to the patent assertion entity community. It has strong ties with Intellectual Ventures, Rockstar and MOSAID, three of the world’s largest patent trolls.” (usnews.com)

Patent Privateering:

Patent privateering has become a greater issue than patent trolls. Patent privateering is when companies sell their patents to another entity that will pursue litigation against their competitors. They have an agreement to share in the proceeds. This action has been gaining attention from the Federal Trades Commission because it is anti-competitive behavior and may violate anti-trust laws. Patent Privateering can make it difficult to figure out who actually owns a patent and thus the propagation of patents to entities acts as a sort of shield for the aggressor company to hide behind. An example of a company that has engaged in this practice is Nokia.

Problem and Solution:

There are many problems associated with patents. Permitting too many patents to be approved (which would be the PTO’s responsibility) would bar entrants and new start-ups from competing. Also most innovation is not wholly original, it is a development of something that already exists, so it is hard to gauge and measure what is patentable. Patent trolls are holding patents hostage for ransom, and small companies that don’t have the power to pay suffer from this behavior. Patent privateering is sneaky and an underhanded way of damaging competition. Transparency is a possible solution to fight the underhanded patenting business. Companies like Google have entered into an agreement to only pursue defensive patent licenses. However this sort of agreement of transparency requires a level of trust that may not exist in the competitive world of technology.

Opinion:

There needs to be regulation and greater accountability in the technology industry for copying and infringement. It is an issue that affects small companies, as well as the larger ones. Generally businesses are considered persons by law, therefore they should adhere to the same basic moral codes that people do. This would enable more trust and enable a good-natured and healthy competitive environment. It seems that companies and people alike are so concerned with money they forfeit their morals.

Sources: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/economic-intelligence/2013/03/29/time-for-transparency-on-microsofts-patent-troll-privateering (usnews.com)
http://www.adamstechnologies.com/patents.htm (adamstechnologies.com)

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9 thoughts on “The Troll Under The Bridge

  1. Great post! I found it incredibly informative and I really liked your creative and narrative that you added. It definitely made the post engaging. This definitely seems like a tricky problem. Part of me doesn’t think it is okay for people to patent anything they can think of just to make money off of those who “steal it.” Though I really think that coming up with the idea is incredibly important I think that there is value in marketing and implementing that idea well. And I think that most times it’s not that a company like Microsoft and Apple are directly stealing ideas, they are just coming up with similar ideas later (I could be wrong about this) So in this sense I think they have the right to use these ideas. BUT there has to be some accountability to ensure that those with the power and money are not being exploitative of smaller companies or people with great ideas.

    • I definitely agree that the tech industry companies feed off each other and develop similar ideas and that they need to be held accountable to some degree so that they aren’t allowed to engage in anti competitive behavior that would hurt smaller firms

  2. Haha! I love your design of the blog. You started with a well known children story and lead to the topic of patent troll. I also enjoy the videos you embedded, they are very fun and helps to sum up the words. Patent Troll and Privateering is indeed a big problem nowadays. They carries a huge about of profit. I would like to also read some personal opinions in the blog :)

  3. I liked this post because it deals with a business model that I have never heard of before. I know patents are vital to the technology industry, and I’m sure everyone involved knows that, as well. As Professor Kane said in class, some business’ have a model that focuses only on patenting ideas and then suing people who infringe upon them. This seems immoral, but I have to admit it is a very out-of-the-box business plan that I’m sure allows them to incur profits.

    I really liked your use of embedded videos and the analogy used to relate this event occurring in the technological industry in a cool funny way. Also, the organization and definition of the terms required to understand this even was done very well.

  4. I agree with everyone above and think that your use of videos and voice throughout this blog is very good. The movies add to the content of the post and also match your tone throughout the piece which makes all the new vocabulary you are introducing really simple to understand. When Professor Kane talked about this issue in class, I was surprised by how far people are willing to go to cheat the system and make money off of not really doing anything, granted they have to think of an idea. It also surprises me that this issue has carried on for a significant time. To me, the negative intentions of these patent trolls should seem obvious and need to be changed. This blog also ties back to one of the earlier ideas we talked about in class about how the law is always lagging behind technology and technology related issues. I hope that our legislative system finds a way to better keep up with the ever-evolving world of technology in order to prevent issues like this.

  5. This is such an interesting way that large corporations make money nowadays. While I never knew this happened, I can’t say I’m too surprised by the shadiness. It reminds me of how powerful companies like Google and Microsoft are. With owning existing patents, they don’t even need to take a service that a small company does and perform it better anymore; they just claim to owning the rights to that innovation. I am very interested to see when this gets challenged in court for, like mentioned in the blog, breaking anti-competitive and anti-trust laws and what the verdict will be.

    • It would definitely be interesting to examine some related specific Court cases. If you wish to look at some use Lexis Nexis which is a law database with great information. You can access it through bc libguides

  6. Excellent post! I would be interested in learning about your opinion on the patent case between Apple and Samsung. I have read that Apple’s victory may be a pyrrhic one if that victory ultimately enables Samsung (and Google Android) to create a better product because they were forced to invest more in original R&D. For example, Samsung has produced phones with NFC capabilities, and while the viability of NFC is still questionable, at the very least it has led to some very entertaining advertisements.

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