Bonum Certa Men Certa

Misplaced Focus on Patent Trolls and Patent Lawyers' Defence of Trolls

Summary: Observations about media coverage and reactions to the focus on patent trolls, which distracts from desperately-needed reform around patent scope

OUR latest article about patent reform, which we published yesterday (late at night), talks about politicians in the US using a bill called the PATENT Act to tackle large corporations' nuisance. This is receiving some attention right now and some bloggers took note of what we wrote about the other day, as well as over the past few years. The issue is not patent trolls but patent scope. It has been obvious for a long time, but corporate media will rarely (if ever) say this.



"Patent Trolls Aren't The Problem - Broad, Vague Patents Are" -- that's the headline in last night's article which alludes to Timothy B. Lee's article, concurring with what we have pointed out for a very long time. To quote the summary: "Timothy B. Lee writes at Vox that the PATENT Act is focused on dealing with patent trolls: fly-by-night companies that get rich by exploiting flaws in the way the courts handle patent lawsuits. If trolls are the primary problem with the patent system, then the PATENT Act will go a long way toward fixing it. But according to Lee patent trolls aren't the primary problem with the patent system. They're just the problem Congress is willing to fix. The primary problem is the patent system makes it too easy to get broad, vague patents, and the litigation process is tilted too far toward plaintiffs. But because so many big companies make so much money off of this system, few in Congress are willing to consider broader reforms."

As we pointed out before, the media, including John Oliver, diverts virtually all the attention to patent trolls as though they are the sole issue. A seemingly respectable (and large) lawyers' site attacks the messenger, saying that "John Oliver is witty, dry, and often downright silly" when attacking his message, essentially defending trolls. The HBO-hosted shows has generally come under fire from many patent lawyers, including vocal proponents of software patents. Note the byline: "Michael Gulliford is the Founder & Managing Principal of Soryn IP Group, a patent advisory company that provides a host of patent-centric services" (i.e. patent lawyers). Watch the pattern here. They are all pretty much defending trolls and dismissing John Oliver, without necessarily coming across as too rude. Here is how one lawyers' site put it: "In the wake of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert leaving their respective shows on Comedy Central for newer pastures, John Oliver has emerged as a new beacon of political humor and satire. If you haven’t watched his show, and especially if you considered the former two as having an obvious political slant, you should check out Last Week Tonight on HBO. His shots get fired everywhere.

"On this week’s, John Oliver took a shot at the patent system, particularly patent trolls..."

There was a lot of press coverage about that show [1, 2, 3, 4], but most of it -- if not all of it -- was supportive, except when it comes to patent lawyers' Web sites. All the criticism that we could find of him was composed by patent lawyers and their media.

Incidentally, there was press release titled "Cal Poly Professor Emeritus to Offer Advice on Thwarting Patent Trolls at Upcoming RT Imaging Summit". It appeared a couple of weeks back in many sites [1, 2, 3]. This too promotes the narrative wherein only trolls are the problem. We need to shift back attention to the broader issue. If software patents became unpatentable, the lion's share of trolls would instantaneous disappear.

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