Patent Trolling isn’t a new thing but it is continuing to slow innovation and create a culture of fear in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs around the world. For the uninitiated, Patent Trolling is the practice of using the United States, and global patent systems to generate revenue by undertaking frivolous lawsuits that create six or seven figure settlements based on, often nothing more than incredibly esoteric and opinion based patents, usually based on design elements rather than specific technical innovation.
Many businesses are set up purely to create generalised patents, for the purpose of the production of legal settlements. However, this practice is not limited to specialised litigious organisations and Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Google are just a few of the organisations which take part in this practice, albeit often accidentally. Legal divisions are tasked with ensuring pre-emptive patents are issued on technology that is for all intents and purposes, theoretical. Often, the applications for these new innovations are nothing more than hand drawn concepts, with the theory being that it’s better to have the patient then to leave the door open for somebody else. However, often even these larger businesses partake in litigation that can only be seen as irresponsible. A recent case that Apple brought against Samsung was thrown out based on its frivolous nature, with tech pundits applauding the decision based on Apple’s suit which offered little more than design similarities.
Bill Gates has recently implored the Senate to enact new legislation to stop this kind of irresponsible behaviour. While seemingly genuinely impassioned, it has also been met with an element of cynicism, based on Microsoft’s early reputation as a serial Patent Troll.
New requirements for patent challenges will be useful, but just as important is the common sense attitude coming to the fore, not only from businesses, but also from the legal community. It seems that nobody wants a fearful technology sector, especially given its importance in the new economy.
So now, the balancing act begins. Some lawmakers have suggested that if you haven’t attempted to build something, you shouldn’t be able to defend the patent. This of course encourages fast moving legal action, both by large technology businesses and specialised patent trolls that expand their operations to include fast-build facilities. It’s important to note that this industry is worth billions of dollars, and innovative techniques to manipulate the legal system form part and parcel of the burden shouldered by every tech CEO.
And so, as the landscape moves quicker than the law and unscrupulous practitioners make the most of that, businesses must continue to fearlessly create, and protect themselves as best they can.