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How to Stop Patent Trolls

They're on the run. Time to finish them off.

It's been a bad year for patent trolls, from a Supreme Court decision squelching their ability to funnel lawsuits to East Texas to this week's ruling that Personal Audio LLC can't claim it owns a patent on the entirety of podcasting. In the latest Mostly Weekly, Reason's Andrew Heaton explores what patent trolls are, the damage they do, and the next step in driving them out of courtrooms and back into dank caves.

Trolls camp out on piles of weak and frivolous patents, hoping to one day sue inventors and businesses. Many of the patents they register or buy are vague, representing novel ideas only insofar as trolls are innovative at finding things they didn't invent to claim legal ownership of. It doesn't matter that these patents wouldn't hold up in court, because a business is more likely to pay off a troll than to hire an expensive attorney to fight them. Trolls suck more than twenty billion dollars out of the economy each year.

The parasitical nature of "non-practicing entities" (the PC term for trolls) has raised questions about whether the modern patent system helps or hinders innovation, and if the best solution is for comprehensive reform or just to burn the whole thing down.

Heaton has an idea to hinder patent trolls. It may not be a silver bullet, but it will definitely piss them off.

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind. Watch past episodes here.

Script by Andrew Heaton with writing assistant from Sarah Siskind
Edited by Austin Bragg and Sarah Rose Siskind.
Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.
Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

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  • ||

    A ticking landmine? Brilliant!

  • Don't look at me.||

    Thanks, I have a patent for that.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    How much you asking for it?

  • ||

    Sure, I just figured that the licensing fees for ironic representations of regular, silent landmines were too high.

  • ||

    @Don't look at me.

    Threading fail.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Hangs head in shame.

  • Unemployed Armenian Tranny||

    Patent trolls aren't the problem, they're a symptom. The Patent office isnt doing due diligence or even following their own rules - the trolls are just taking advantage of it.

  • Robert||

    If there are frivolous patents, it's the examiners' fault. Don't blame the patent system for their bad judgment in issuing them.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    To say the government patent system is not at fault because the right people haven't done the right things is like saying the government health care system is not at fault because the right people haven't done it.

    All government monopolies and government protectorate systems are intrinsically flawed and naturally prone to being taken advantage of. The idea that it just needs to be tweaked in some way and then all will be well is a classic example of idealistic thinking.

  • Robert||

    Not the right people, the people not doing the right job. If you've any experience with patenting inventions, you'd know how it should go. If doing the job properly is what you call tweaking, then tweaking is indeed the answer here.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    The same could be argued for a number of government institutions. The expectation that it can actually happen and the loopholes can be closed is not really something that's feasible.

    Again, same argument applies to every other government manipulation of grand things (like the economy).

  • Galane||

    A perfect example of how useless the US Patent Office has become, from 2002. https:// www.newscientist.com /article /dn2178-boy-takes-swing-at-us-patents/

  • Robert||

    Non-practicing entities are no more a problem than are land speculators or absentee landlords. I was a non-practicing entity with patents because I didn't have the resources to exploit them myself, but knew there were businesses that could. What would you do to biotechnology if you didn't let inventors who couldn't practice the art in a practical way get patents on their discoveries to make them attractive to buy or license?

  • Robert||

    Would you prohibit the owners of other types of capital from using it for profit unless they were working it themselves? Would you require farmers to turn over their produce to their employees?

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    Considering that the vast majority of biotechnology is created by people with little to no personal claim to the IP generated by the R&D, it's hard to imagine very many negative consequences.

    And if you look at basic science research in the US (especially biotech and medicine), you'll find that there are MANY more qualified people vying for jobs in that area than there are jobs for them. It's even referred to as a "crisis" in some circles.

    So there's no clear reason to think that scientific or technology development would be hindered without government intervention. Because, in areas where it's absent, it hasn't.

  • Bra Ket||

    "What would you do to biotechnology if you didn't let inventors who couldn't practice the art in a practical way get patents on their discoveries to make them attractive to buy or license?"

    Considering the overwhelming likelihood that the "discovery" is an obvious improvement on existing technology that results from directing an average engineer to the problem, the answer is you would immediately get a much more efficient market when you remove the ability to become a govt-protected parasite. And patent trolls are just a sideshow. The tech giants in the US joke about running law firms not engineering firms, because their business is actually more focused on the courts than the technology. We have no idea the benefits we are missing from an actual market-based system that requires firms to serve customers foremost to succeed.

    For ideas that really are valuable, you would force the inventor to actually prove it sufficiently to entice someone to pay him for the license, as well as come up with a smarter business model to protect and profit from his idea. If the idea is too simple and easy to reverse-engineer to protect without a govt-enforced monopoly, that's a clue it's too damn obvious. This actually goes on already because small firms generally aren't inclined to mount million dollar infringement lawsuits.

  • Robert||

    If it's an obvious development, the patent should be denied on the basis of obviousness. That's basic patent law. If the examiners don't understand the art, the solution is more knowledge on the part of the examiners.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    "If the NHS bureaucrats aren't getting appointments for patients fast enough, the solution is more knowledge on the part of the bureaucrats. Duh."

  • Bra Ket||

    "If it's an obvious development, the patent should be denied on the basis of obviousness. That's basic patent law. "

    Yeah no kidding. But you asked "what would you do to biotechnology", which I took to mean the present reality of biotechnology, as opposed to a utopic fantasyland where regulations somehow weren't always corrupted to serve the entrenched market leaders. Hence my answer focused on the shortcomings of reality which would be improved upon by the proposed elimination of the corrupt system.

  • H. Farnham||

    Andrew Heaton is really funny... but he throws like a girl... which kind of makes him even more funny. Good work Andrew.

  • SamHell||

    Somebody's been watching Silicon Valley.

  • Sijo Soorya||

    Very informative video. Thanks for sharing.
    Abrasives in UAE

  • jjjjj||

    Why not eliminate the whole patent system? That seems to be the most libertarian thing to do.

  • jjjjj||

    Why not eliminate the whole patent system? That seems to be the most libertarian thing to do.

  • macsnafu||

    The patent system doesn't need to be eliminated, just privatized. A private system seems to work pretty well for property abstracts, so why not with patents, too?

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