Patent Trolls

I was reading an article today about a very serious patent claim currently being made in Texas. You can read the whole things here, but to summarise a patent troll called Eolas is trying to sue all the major internet players in claim over a patent that essentially covers the internet and how it works.

I had to post about it because one part of my work is to come up with new ideas and better ways for people to run their businesses. These types of patent trolls are a massive threat to the way everyone has come to rely on technology in their lives.

The problem is that software patents are vague, open to interpretation and can be completely misused. In theory, every innovator has to check through all patent offices around to world to see if their idea has already been though it. This simply isn't realistic and patent trolls know this.

Surely it would be better if the patent holder has to prove that their idea was actually stolen rather than someone else just thinking of the same idea. This is the weakness. Just because you patent an idea, doesn't mean someone hasn't already thought of it, used it, or may think of it on their own later. Even the biggest companies can't check everything they do.. it would overbear the patent office, stifle new ideas, plus some of these companies buy in from smaller firms that simply couldn't afford this process. This idea would be something like the well known legal term of "innocent until proven guilty". 

I don't want you to get me wrong about patents themselves. I think patents do have their place. Western worlds can't manufacture any more, not like the East can, so innovate and license has become a massive contribution to the overall GDP. But if these people were really serious about just protecting their ideas, they wouldn't have waited years for the fish to fatten on it before coming in to destroy it for everyone, which is precisely what patent trolls are doing, and the Eolas case is no exception. There is absolutely no way that they wouldn't have known these companies had innovations covered in their patents.

Perhaps then this alternative idea would be fair. If someone has been publicly producing products or services that have innovations that could be argued are covered by a patent, then if no infringements have been claimed within X years, then they can't sue. That should stop the trolls and get patent holders to actually check what they own, not everyone else trying to see what everyone else might have, and it would therefore still allow people to protect their ideas. That is the purpose after all, not to allow people to mince millions for their own means and "sod the rest of the world".

Wed, 29 Jul 2009 14:50