06.28.13

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Corporate Debates About Patent Trolls Versus Debates About Patents (or Software Patents in Isolation)

Posted in America, Law, Patents at 5:02 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The issues most often overlooked by American corporate media

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Summary: A roundup of coverage about the menace which is patent litigation and the different angles chosen for tackling it

There is a perpetual disconnect and a considerable difference between what people want and what large corporations, which virtually if not practically control the US government, actually want. The large corporations want to see small companies/firms crushed, whereas the public in general wants to reduce spurious added costs, incurred by litigation and cross-licensing (shrewdly-disguised price-fixing by large corporations). The patent lawyers at some firm called “Armstrong Teasdale LLP” join the club of whiners over PTAB [1, 2]. They need to accept the rulings which crush software patents in the US, but they are in denial. Generally speaking, patents do not necessarily benefit the US, unless one considers in isolation smaller compartments of US commerce (patent lawyers or CEOs of large corporations). As a new paper’s abstract puts it:

We use a detailed data set to estimate the costs and benefits of United States patents. To estimate costs, we combine data from Derwent Litalert with a proprietary dataset of non-practicing entity (NPE) lawsuits collected by Patent Freedom, and use an event study approach to estimate losses suffered by alleged infringers during 1984-2009. To estimate benefits, we combine patent data from the USPTO and EPO with financial data from CRSP and COMPUSTAT, and use market-value regressions to estimate the value of patent rents for publicly-traded US firms during 1979-2002. We find that costs exceed benefits overall and that the gap between costs and benefits has grown across time. Surges in the number of NPE lawsuits, lawsuits filed over Computers/Communications patents, and lawsuits brought against non-manufacturing, software and telecommunications firms contribute to the increase in the gap. Growth in costs outstrips growth in lawsuits, in part, because events in these fast-growing categories have higher-than-
average per-event dollar costs.

There are leeches or non-producing players, which hurt customers a lot. According to this article, the “[p]olicy under President Obama is moving against aggressive assertion of software patents, posing significant long-term risk to the profitability of entertainment technology patent holder Rovi (ROVI).”

Whatever destroys trolls is good for the economy — that is — the collective economy which includes customers. Profit for businesses is the wrong yardstick to use if the businesses are ones of extortion, such as Intellectual Ventures. As Troll Tracker put it: “What’s going on is, as the issue of patent trolling attracts more and more attention in the mainstream media, the message is getting diluted and the waters are getting muddied.” There is also this observation about Lodsys:

Intellectual Ventures (Might Be) Tied To Lodsys: Wait, What?

[...]

It’s a proxy fight, and if Lodsys is successful in getting Mhyrvold to testify, something to that effect will surely come out. No wonder he’s fighting it so hard, he’s trying to avoid exposure. Trolls? This is what happens when you garner FTC attention.

We covered this earlier this week. We also covered the issue in prior years. Lodsys had received patents from Intellectual Ventures, which we know to be using about 2,000 pseudo-companies as litigation proxies. This is a pyramid scheme and part of an extortion racket, wrapped in a riddle and a whole legion of lobbyists.

“Lodsys had received patents from Intellectual Ventures, which we know to be using about 2,000 pseudo-companies as litigation proxies.”Mark Bohannon, the Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Global Public Policy at Red Hat (in other words, a chief lobbyist), ought the know the pain caused by trolls like Acacia (it got money from Red Hat several times). Bohannon says that the “House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and a wide variety of witnesses highlighted the PAE problem in hearings last winter. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy is working with Chairman Goodlatte and committed to working in a bicameral and bipartisan way to counter what they term ‘patent trolling,’ which “casts a pall on the system because it hinders innovation.””

He also says: “A number of key issues “left on the cutting room floor” during consideration of the AIA—including the current unreliable, uncertain, and speculative method of calculating damages, correcting the standard for finding willful infringement, and venue—remain important elements of our broken patent system that play to the hands of PAEs and encourage abusive patent litigation.

“While action in these areas remains important, they are absent from the current legislative agenda. Given the widening attacks by PAEs, it is essential that Congress work to produce meaningful legislation on at least the issues identified above in order to begin to stem the tide.

“With many of the key players in Congress—joined by the Executive Branch—rowing in the same direction, let’s look for an updated draft of the House Judiciary bill that enhances its ‘first step’ proposal. And the Senate Judiciary Committee is well positioned to put forward a robust measure that builds on (and incorporates) the bills introduced by Senators Cornyn and Schumer.”

“Get rid of the patents to resolve the issue.”The problem is, the White House is still tackling the symptom, not the disease [1, 2, 3, 4]. Those bills are hardly the solution, they tackle a symptom really, one among several symptoms which they mostly fail to address. Todd Bishop, a Microsoft booster, shows Google acquiring more privacy-infringing ideas, which is a problem in itself.

MariaDB, which recently joined OIN and OSI, will remain vulnerable to trolls and as the Oracle case against Google taught us, OIN membership is not enough to dodge litigation from giants, either. Get rid of the patents to resolve the issue. The large corporations are definitely part of the problem, but the White House is literally funded by many of those companies, so don’t expect reform in that domain. Expect the White House to go after smaller players, those that opportunistically sue many large companies. This one new example says that “ArrivalStar sued more than 200 companies and cities over bus-tracking patents.” Patent trolls like ArrivalStar are a problem, but they are not the only problem and when one looks at the actual patent, then it becomes clear that patent scope is the issue, not the plaintiff per se. As we saw many times before (e.g. Oracle, Apple, Microsoft), large corporations use equally ridiculous patents to extort other companies. According to this post, a troll we wrote about before is still busy in Texas, suing large corporations’ clients, so those large corporations get involved:

Earlier this week, we provided an update on the multitude of WiFi-related infringement lawsuits brought by non-practicing entity Innovative Wireless Solutions LLC against various hotels and restaurants in Texas, noting that IWS had dismissed these suits (albeit without prejudice). We had discussed that this was a decidedly “un-Innovatio-like” turn in the cases — but yesterday brought a development that makes this series of disputes much more like the ones in the Northern District of Illinois involving Innovatio: Cisco Systems Inc., a supplier of WiFi equipment for many of the hotels accused of infringement, got involved. And Just like it did with Innovatio, Cisco here filed a declaratory judgment action against IWS, seeking declarations of invalidity and non-infringement as to IWS’s three asserted patents.

It is not easy to kill patent trolls, as Gene Quinn’s recent piece indicates. Trolls cannot be sued, so it takes collective effort. The chairwoman of the FTC speaks about predatory tactics of patent trolls. To quote: “At an event co-sponsored by CCIA, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez announced that she would be asking the Commission to institute a Section 6(b) investigation of the patent troll business model. Senator Leahy also sent Chairwoman Ramirez a letter today, encouraging the FTC use its powers “to prevent unfair and deceptive trade practices in patent infringement allegations.”

“It is those large corporations which probably do far more damage than the trolls and the remedy lies within patent scope.”Edith Ramirez should ask her colleagues to look at patent scope rather than the nature of firms that sue large corporations. It is those large corporations which probably do far more damage than the trolls and the remedy lies within patent scope. Don’t expect any real reform in a nation where large corporations have politicians and government agencies in their pockets. Both political parties (including members of Congress) are controlled and bankrolled by the same large corporations, some more than the other. Always ask yourself when the White House debates trolls or some Congressperson brings up the subject, who are those people funded by? Also, notice who is backing all these pushes against trolls in the corporate sector. As always, money makes the world go round and large corporations are still writing everyone’s policies. The public deserves better than that. The corporations-controlled and corporations-run USPTO will continue to grant more patents than ever before (i.e. more profit), it’s just that those capitalising on those patents (monopolies) will be fewer and larger. Those patents are not there to encourage innovation, they are there to justify increases in prices, eternally-forbidding commoditisation, e.g. generics in medicine.

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