Monday, May 01, 2006

Why Patent Trolls Win

If you negotiate with terrorists, it'll encourage more terrorism. This appears to be just as true of terrorists who try to destroy your innovation and/or livelihood as it is of terrorists who hijack airplanes and blow people up. RIM has just found out that their $600+ million settlement with patent terrorist NTP is going to cost them even more -- now other patent trolls see them as an easy target. Visto Corp of California, has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against RIM in the Eastern District of Texas, hoping that NTP's recently successful shakedown of RIM with illegitimate patent claims will result in a similar outcome for them.

Regardless of the merit of Visto's claims (RIM counters that not only do the patents not apply to RIM technology, but that the patents are invalid anyway), this also clearly demonstrates the great harm that software patents cause -- how many patents could RIM's products and services possibly trespass upon, and when does RIM cross the break-even point into negative profits and be forced to shutter their wildly popular products, as dozens of trolls each demand a section of the pie greater than the pie itself?

All this, from a patent system which is constitutionally mandated to promote the useful arts and sciences. Tell me again, how do litigation cases like those started by NTP and Visto promote anything at all resembling that?

Update: as a note of interest, Visto is the company that licensed NTP's patents near the end of the BlackBerry trial. In exchange, NTP became a minority stake-holder in Visto. So in a very real way, Visto's lawsuit is just NTP's lawsuit all over again, with a different set of overly broad and obvious patent claims


Anonymous Michael Richardson said...

When RIM disavows a number of ultra-crappy patents they have filed, I'll care about them. (Just because I'm a Canadian, doesn't mean I have to root for "us")
As I think you wrote- statutory filings could replace defensive patents.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Jackson Lenford said...

Michael, thanks for the comment. I have to agree with you that in no way does this make RIM the 'good guy.' RIM is absolutely guilty of using their own patents as a hammer against competitors.

But that doesn't mean this all evens-out in the end, or that we shouldn't care. The fact that a patent holder (whether it be RIM or Visto) can cause such a great deal of harm with their patent[s] is unjust. And its this kind of injustice that I'm interested in shining a light on.

So I guess I'd say that I'm not trying to invoke sympathy for RIM -- I'm trying to invoke sympathy for everyone whose innovative hard work is threatened by those who think they are entitled to wealth made by others just because they sat around and dreamed up a way to gain a patent monopoly over broad and obvious ideas.

1:19 PM  

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