Obama: patents patently barmy.

A serious issue I’ve been critically writing and talking about for several years now has finally made its way up through the echelons of power to find itself being officially recognized – and condemned – by no less than the President of the USA! Indeed, the day before President’s Day Barack Obama issued a strong rebuke against patent trolls! When asked to comment on the current situation as regards the protection of intellectual property and abuses of patents, he came out with the following gem:

“The folks that you’re talking about [patent trolls] are a classic example; they don’t actually produce anything themselves. They’re just trying to essentially leverage and hijack somebody else’s idea and see if they can extort some money out of them.”

Ye gods. At last some sense from the top! He went on to say that patent trolls (not the term he used!) represent one of the main things very wrong with the current American patent system. Then he commented on his administration’s attempts at patent reform:

“I do think that our efforts at patent reform only went about halfway to where we need to go, and what we need to do is pull together additional stakeholders and see if we can build some additional consensus on smarter patent laws.”

You can read a bit more on Obama’s comments here, or check this video out – from the 16th minute:

It’s the idiosyncrasies of the national patent system of the USA which gave birth to the monster that goes by the name of patent trollism, including that perpetrated by NPEs – non-practicing entities – which are patent owners who do not manufacture or use a patented invention. The US patent system has been in need of serious reform for years already. Today, in its current state it only acts as a brake slowing down innovation and progress – not just in the USA, but on a worldwide scale.

As I’ve written before – here – this system makes it possible to patent not a completed invention, but an unrealized idea – and in the widest sense of the term. In the early 1990s the quirks of the US patent system manifested themselves through a significant number of patent certificates being granted covering different “technologies” with underlying patent formulas, which all of a sudden wiped out just about any and all innovation. They range from the bizarre to the mildly comical to the altogether absurd. Examples: smiley usage, upgrading user status in online gaming, auto-online-form filling, activating products with an activation code, and “one-click” online purchasing. A load more extraordinary examples can be found here.

The US patent system has also engendered a particular type of “leech” – the type which Mr. Obama was referring to. There’s a should-be-criminal practice that makes it possible – completely legally – for a sufficiently large number of people, without much effort at all, to literally shake down manufacturers to the tune of millions of dollars. And the folks doing it? – The overwhelming majority of them are bright, educated specialists, whose energy would be directed at the good of society and progress in general if patent trollism didn’t exist. But instead of that they prefer to harass businesses – the ones that make things (worthwhile things) – and choose an easy and illegal way to get rich.

Alas, changes to the patent system will hardly come quickly. They’ll take years. That shouldn’t be the case, but it is. Still, the fact that this serious – and costly (costing nearly US$ 30 billion in 2011 to the US alone) – issue has been taken notice of at the very highest level – well, this speaks volumes. In particular, it demonstrates (i) how the craziness of the problem has reached such crazy proportions that urgent intervention is needed, otherwise technological progress could end up, if not collapsing, then at least stagnating; and (ii) how the issue at last will move on (at least, I really hope it will) from the present deadlock.

From our (KL) side – we’ll fight the trolls until the last round of ammunition (their round!). If they attempt to just sneeze in our direction – we’ll be back at them in a flash and take no prisoners – just like we did in the IPAT (RPX) case. Our monitoring of trolls’ litigation against IT companies gives us the feeling it wasn’t in vain that we refused to pay out; instead – persevering to the end. Turns out they really are afraid of us and don’t want to get bogged down in long-winded proceedings. They’re only interested in a fast and easy buck… rather – fast and easy several million bucks.

We’ll also continue to actively participate in different groups that prepare and promote suggestions regarding positive changes to US legislation and the patent system – changes that would permit, if not rooting out, then at least limiting the progress of the innovation-hindering activity of the trolls.

And once again, I’d like to call on all the big players in the IT market to not opt for peaceful settlements with these companies. Only then will it be possible to stop feeding these parasites and cut off the lifeline they depend on for survival.

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    Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

    I would not defend patent trolls, but they do serve a vital function for which an effective reform would have to find a viable alternative. The brokering and consolidation of patents provides an avenue of revenue–limited, perhaps–for the isolated, independent inventor with only a few patents. I could sell rights to some of my HMI patents to an IP troll or can let them languish until they expire. But I have neither the time nor resources to take on the big guys who are infringing.

    –Prof. Larry Constantine, University of Madeira

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