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US Patent Trolling Costs $29 Billion a Year

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the gotta-give-those-courtrooms-something-to-do dept.

Patents 130

New submitter Bismillah writes "This piece of research from Boston University seems to put an end to claims that patent trolling is 'socially valuable,' and instead is a social loss. 'We estimate that firms accrued $29 billion of direct costs in 2011. Moreover, although large firms accrued over half of direct costs, most of the defendants were small or medium-sized firms, indicating that [non-practicing entities] are not just a problem for large firms.' The total cost to society could be around $80 billion, according to the researchers. What's more, the costs have gone up fourfold since 2005."

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130 comments

well (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40465775)

'We estimate that firms accrued $29 billion of direct costs in 2011'

not the law firms.

Re:well (2)

hemo_jr (1122113) | about 2 years ago | (#40466595)

As they are a bottomless pit of non-productive expense, they are where the money goes to die.

Re:well (1)

EdIII (1114411) | about 2 years ago | (#40468147)

Clearly not.

Do you know how much money lawyers spend on fast cars, hookers, cocaine, and more hookers? Not to mention incidental industries like suits and briefcases.

How many small businesses don't start... (4, Interesting)

mellon (7048) | about 2 years ago | (#40465777)

...because the potential entrepreneur expects that if they become successful, a patent troll will take all their money?

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40465961)

There are many reasons why small businesses don't start; the vague threat of patent trolling is WAY down that list. In fact I'd go as far as to say anyone worried about this before even starting a business is an idiot, so those businesses were probably better of not starting anyway.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (5, Insightful)

apsyrtes (557388) | about 2 years ago | (#40466087)

I guess I'm an idiot then... every time I think of turning an idea into a little bit of an extra revenue generator for myself my second thought is that somebody from the US will just sue me and it's not worth that.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466397)

Same here, I am working on a small MMO, and I am definitely thinking of only allowing access to European customers.
It is just not worth adding a bit more of the market for the risk it represents.

You are both idiots then (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467131)

Your first problem is trying to understand intellectual property by reading slashdot. The amount of (mis)information of this site is astounding. You would get better quality information about particle physics from a website directed to exploring the hidden meanings of the writings of James Joynce than you get about patents from this website.

First, nobody is going to sue you if you don't have any money. Unless you are raking in multi-, multi-millions/pounds/euros of revenue, you are too small.

Second, if somebody does sue you, their demands are likely to be very small. Most want you to use their technology -- they just want a little cut of the action.

My advice to any entrepeneur is (1) focus on building aviable business first; (2) protect your own intellectual property (it very well be the most valuable asset you produce); and (3) worry about other people's intellectual property only after you get big enough to pop up on somebody's radar. When (3) happens, you'll probably already be in your second or third round of financing and thinking about buying an island in the Caribbean with all the money you are going to make once you go public.

Let me guess, are you one of those people that are afraid to walk out of the house because there is some small chance that you'll get hit by lightning or bitten by a rabid raccoon?

Re:You are both idiots then (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467317)

Another "you don't know shit about business" troll.

Re:You are both idiots then (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40468753)

however, he's right.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (2)

nukenerd (172703) | about 2 years ago | (#40466217)

Another idiot here, although that should worry you as I have been responsible as an engineer for checking that trains are not likely to derail and that certain nuclear power stations stay safe.

I have always had a lot of engineering ideas, and have applied them at work but only in a limited area, or have confined them to my own stuff (like around the house and on my cars).

I have considered more than once going into business with an invention, but the thought that some patent holder could come along and sue my pants off is the main factor that has deterred me.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466281)

Well maybe idiot is too strong a word; but genius engineers are often idiots in business. If you're focussed on these issues then my contention is you probably don't understand enough about business anyway to start one. There are risks inherent in any venture, and most risks are way larger than this one. If your estimation is that this is the *biggest* risk, then you're missing a dozen much, much larger risks, which makes you a business idiot. I mean that in the nicest possible way, though. A life focussed on engineering is never going to produce the best business brain. Find a partner if you're serious about these ideas - one that knows business - and see how he appraises the patent trolling risk compared to the others.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (3)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 2 years ago | (#40466299)

I have considered more than once going into business with an invention, but the thought that some patent holder could come along and sue my pants off is the main factor that has deterred me.

With all due respect, you're an idiot, as the GP stated. Read the study - patent trolls are going after "small companies", which they define as companies with a median of $89 million in annual revenue. If you're turning down the potential for tens of millions in annual revenue, out of fear of a half million dollar lawsuit, then you're an idiot.

But honestly, you're not an idiot. You just don't realize that trolls aren't going to spend half a million to sue someone with a hundred thousand in revenue, understandably with all the scare stories here on Slashdot. Go into business. If you manage to strike it big and earn millions upon millions of dollars, then you can spend a few sleepless nights worrying about trolls from the comfort of the giant pile of money you're using as a mattress.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (3, Insightful)

mellon (7048) | about 2 years ago | (#40466415)

Right. They wait until you're making money, and then they come take it. Half a million? No. The damage can be your entire company. What would RIM look like right now if they hadn't suffered a half a billion dollar patent tax on push email?

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (3, Informative)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 2 years ago | (#40466869)

Right. They wait until you're making money, and then they come take it. Half a million? No. The damage can be your entire company. What would RIM look like right now if they hadn't suffered a half a billion dollar patent tax on push email?

Probably no different. The RIM v. NTP settlement was in March 2006, at which point their stock price was at $27 [google.com] . 16 months later, they were at $85 and did a 3:1 split... at which point it then went up to a peak of $144... So one share of $27 stock when that half billion dollar "tax" (really? taxes go to the government, this was to the patent owner) was then worth $432, or a 1600% increase.

No, what killed RIM (aside from the 2008 recession, but that hurt everyone) was the fact that they rested on their Blackberry laurels and never innovated further, believing themselves to have a lock on the enterprise market, and iOS and Android shot past them. [phonedog.com]

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1)

mjr167 (2477430) | about 2 years ago | (#40468339)

The bigger question is though... who gives a crap what happens to the company? You already got your island in the Carribean. There is a difference between your personal assets and the company assets. If you set your company up correctly, you are sheilded. The company gets sued under, you don't. You still have the island and a couple million in your bank account.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (3, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#40469203)

The bigger question is though... who gives a crap what happens to the company?

The employees and their families?

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1)

king neckbeard (1801738) | about 2 years ago | (#40466583)

This only adresses trolls, though. If you are enough of a success to threaten an incumbent market leader, they could go after your company with their patent warchest.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467171)

No .... what they will do is try to buy you out -- particularly if you are smart enough to generate some of your own intellectual property.

The Google's, Microsoft's, and IBM's of the world don't threaten competition with patents -- they just buy them out. This means that their founders, instead of cowering over patent lawsuts, become rich overnight because they had a set.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40468813)

A "small company" , according to IRS, is any company 500 employees and under. Little perspective and understanding goes a long way.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1)

cgenman (325138) | about 2 years ago | (#40466515)

It's not really a vague threat. You have to have a patent defense plan if you're starting any sort of tech business. At this point, unless you're going out of business you WILL be sued. Now, sometimes that's being sued by some shmuck that can barely afford a lawyer himself, and all you need is a solid 20k for an IP lawyer of your own. But you better build that into your plan.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466549)

I must be an idiot too. I had an opportunity to expand my (very small) business and hire more people, and invest in the company, or sell it to an interested buyer.

Between the unknowns of higher taxes and potentially higher health care costs for employers who have employees, along with things like patent trolls, It's simply to low of a margin to make a reasonable profit depending upon what happens in Washington.

There is a lot on the federal government's table right now, and I wasn't about to hire anyone, not knowing what it's going to cost me in the (very near) future. I don't have the resources and financial padding of the large corporations to do it, without being able to account for the possibility of potentially devastating expenses like higher taxes, trolls, and the cost of hiring employees. Depending upon what happens, it could have distinctly affected profit vs. loss in my business.

I sold the company, and am building a solo consulting business. It's very difficult to hire right now, unless you can financially cover what might be coming. The little guy really is in a difficult waiting game right now.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (2)

jd2112 (1535857) | about 2 years ago | (#40466573)

Patent trolls are only interested if you have enough money to make a lawsuit worthwhile, so until you are profitable or at least get VC funding pattent trolls aren't much of a problem.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1)

firex726 (1188453) | about 2 years ago | (#40465963)

Pretty much...

Gone are the days of a single guy with a great idea reaching the top.
He'll either be bought out long before he makes it rich, and his idea stuck in some vault, never to be seen again; or squashed by patent lawsuits.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466327)

Or, you know, he's a married woman.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (0)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 2 years ago | (#40466077)

...because the potential entrepreneur expects that if they become successful, a patent troll will take all their money?

Some, but they probably lack the wisdom to be successful at all, if that's what they're afraid of. Trolls are parasites, no? A parasite that kills its host is not a very good one. Trolls want companies to manufacture products and grow big so that they can take a share of royalties. It simply doesn't make sense to spend half a million suing a start-up into oblivion, if that start-up has only made a few hundred thousand.

In fact, look at the line in the Summary here:

Moreover, although large firms accrued over half of direct costs, most of the defendants were small or medium-sized firms, indicating that [non-practicing entities] are not just a problem for large firms.

Sounds scary, right? Small firms... That's like two really successful guys in a garage who made half a million in sales, right? Wrong. From the article:

Organisations of all sizes were affected by 2011 patent action, with the study finding that half of all patent litigation cases hit companies with less than $US100 million in annual revenue.

So, yes, if you're a startup with a hundred million in annual revenue, you may be a target for patent trolls. And if you're an entrepreneur who decides not to launch a hundred-million dollar business because they may have to pay license fees, then you're either an idiot or you're fooling yourself about your potential valuation.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1)

mellon (7048) | about 2 years ago | (#40466445)

Trolls are parasites in the same sense that people who eat fruit are parasites. You don't eat half the fruit and leave the rest. You eat the whole thing, and then chuck the pits in the trash, where they never germinate. Why would you leave any money on the table?

Another analogy would be mosquitoes. Sure, no individual mosquito is going to take a substantial amount of your blood, but living in a cloud of mosquitoes is not a happy life.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (3, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 2 years ago | (#40466541)

Organisations of all sizes were affected by 2011 patent action, with the study finding that half of all patent litigation cases hit companies with less than $US100 million in annual revenue.

So, yes, if you're a startup with a hundred million in annual revenue, you may be a target for patent trolls.

While your main point is no doubt correct, it should be pointed out that "less than $100 Million" is NOT "$100 million".

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 2 years ago | (#40466651)

Organisations of all sizes were affected by 2011 patent action, with the study finding that half of all patent litigation cases hit companies with less than $US100 million in annual revenue.

So, yes, if you're a startup with a hundred million in annual revenue, you may be a target for patent trolls.

While your main point is no doubt correct, it should be pointed out that "less than $100 Million" is NOT "$100 million".

Conceded... From a different post, the "small company" category had a median size of $89 million.

Unfortunately, there's no exact data on what the smallest of the smalls were, but if their "less than $100 million" had a median of $89 million, we're probably not talking a bunch of sub-$1 million companies.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (4, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 2 years ago | (#40467103)

Unfortunately, there's no exact data on what the smallest of the smalls were, but if their "less than $100 million" had a median of $89 million, we're probably not talking a bunch of sub-$1 million companies.

Quite so. Which is why I wrote "While your main point is no doubt correct".

A patent troll isn't interested in really small new startups, since they don't have enough money on hand for a large award. If it costs more for your lawyers to sue someone than they can afford to pay, then you don't sue them.

On the other hand, if you've got a great new idea, and think you can make a metric buttload of money with it, then, at some point you're going to be visited by a patent troll.

And while $89 million may sound like a lot, Google just spent a significant fraction of that amount defending itself against Oracle. If you own a $90 million company, and a major patent troll comes after you (whether its actions are legally justified or just plain economic terrorism), then you're going to pretty much go broke defending yourself, even if you win.

This is the primary danger of the patent troll - a startup will either remain insignificant, or it'll attract the attention of a patent troll. Either way, the big boys aren't going to be threatened by a new player

Keep in mind, the only real way to prevent monopolies from forming is to encourage new players to enter the market. Having a bunch of lawyers playing gatekeeper for the big boys prevents that quite successfully.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 2 years ago | (#40467237)

And while $89 million may sound like a lot, Google just spent a significant fraction of that amount defending itself against Oracle. If you own a $90 million company, and a major patent troll comes after you (whether its actions are legally justified or just plain economic terrorism), then you're going to pretty much go broke defending yourself, even if you win.

Unlikely. Even super expensive patent litigation isn't going to cost more than $5 million. And consider, for your $90M company to go broke defending itself, you'd be spending $90M on litigation, no? At which point, what exactly is the patent troll supposed to collect if they win? Your office furniture? No, it's in their interests for you to (i) settle or (ii) lose, but lose early and inexpensively. Having you go broke is the worst possible outcome for the troll, since they're parasites.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (4, Interesting)

Eponymous Coward (6097) | about 2 years ago | (#40466247)

It can get a lot more depressing than that.

Try starting something cool, build a bit of a following, then have a lawyer contact you with the news that a larger company is interested in acquiring you. Sounds good, right? Maybe not.

So you call up the lawyer and find out that the offer is insultingly small and comes with a catch. If you don't accept it, they are going to start suing you for all the bullshit patents you are violating. You are small, have nothing to fight back with, so what do you do?

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (3, Informative)

Yvanhoe (564877) | about 2 years ago | (#40467239)

I stay in France.

True story.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467241)

What do you do? Make sure you have some intellectual property of your own. If your business is viable -- it is because of one of two things (1) you stole somebody else's idea and/or (2) you created some new ideas. If all you did was (1) and that idea happened to be patented, what right do you have to use it? However, if you did (2) and it is because of (2) you are successful, then you have potential to make serious money if you have intellectual property on your new ideas.

Intellectual property ensures that the profits go to those who innovate -- not to those who copy. Sure, there are middleman, but there are middleman in every business.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (5, Insightful)

lhunath (1280798) | about 2 years ago | (#40467433)

There are a few problems in your line of thinking:

1. You seem to think that "ideas" are somehow unique enough that only one person can ever think of them and all others can only acquire the same by "stealing".
2. You seem to think that any great new ideas that have not yet been implemented are "new ideas".

The amount of registered IP today probably covers nearly anything anyone could possible come up with, unique or not, just by the mere fact that ideas are inherently very generic and most registered IPs are very badly evaluated.

Anyone talking about "intellectual PROPERTY" or "innovating" by registering new IP, makes me sick. Turning intellectual products into property is the death of intellectual innovation, and anyone that thinks otherwise has deluded themselves or hasn't thought it through.

Innovation would happen when LOTS of people innovated using the SAME intellectual product. Then there would be competition. Customers could choose considering things like price and quality. This choice would drive implementers to innovate more than their competition. It would drive the whole economy.

Turning intellectual products into property denies it from the competition and effectively breaks the whole foundation of capitalism.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467511)

Not everything is patentable and not everything should be patentable. A business can be viable in a lot of ways that are not stealing or creating new ground breaking ideas. You might have nicer IDE, you might have better customer service, you might be charismatic or you might have better contacts so they buy your product because their management is your friend. None of these is nor should be patentable.

Most products and services are not new inventions, only different products. Hell, Facebook was no new invention when it started. Everything in it existed before, but they packed it into nicer product and have been much better in growing the company.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1, Interesting)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 2 years ago | (#40467549)

You laugh and say "Go ahead, Sparky. By the time you get your default judgement, it'll be against an abandoned shell company with no assets. Repeat that as often as you like against my endless shells, until you die penniless in the gutter, you worthless Goddamn parasite."

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1)

servies (301423) | about 2 years ago | (#40467571)

So you call up the lawyer and find out that the offer is insultingly small and comes with a catch. If you don't accept it, they are going to start suing you for all the bullshit patents you are violating. You are small, have nothing to fight back with, so what do you do?

Get your shotgun and shoot the lawyer?

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467801)

Feh. You're thinking small.

Demand a face-to-face with all of the principals of the troll company, along with their lawyer. And then get your shotgun and shoot them all at the same time.

When you sell your company it becomes personal too (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467377)

Absolutely, in my experience troll letters start as soon as you have MARKET VISIBILITY which has only become easier and more necessary in the past two decades. I started a software company in the mid 90's and even then trolls made making my small fortune miserable both before and even after we sold it, due to the always-present "indemnification" clause that puts the seller personally in line to pay any claims above some threshold. Yes I survived with a little luck, but it wasn't fun.

Re:How many small businesses don't start... (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 2 years ago | (#40468203)

...because the potential entrepreneur expects that if they become successful, a patent troll will take all their money?

Actually, patent trolls have a self-interest in seeing you succeed. Suing you out of business isn't in their interests as well.

Think about it - they rely on patents to earn them money. Suing someone who makes $20M in revenue for $100M in damages does little - at the end of the day, the guy will close up shop, the product stops being sold, and that's it - it's really a pyhrric victory.

A patent troll who extracts a modest licensing income that leaves the business enough money and ROI to keep going and selling the product will continue to pay royalties for a long time, monetizing the patent.

Unlike patent lawsuits between companies like Apple v. Samsung (where Apple's goal is to prevent sales as it's in their interest to do so), a patent troll's purpose is to leech. And a bad leech kills their host (killing the golden goose).

Remember, patent trolls are in it for the money, and they have every interest to see that money flows in. If you're too small, they won't bother because the lawsuits will probably kill your business (and any chance of future success at which point they can get money) and possibly cost them more than they'll get back.

And yes, even their licensing fees are calculated - if after paying the fees it's not profitable enough for you to continue and you drop the product, again, that's a loss in future licensing fees.

A patent troll's success is directly tied to your success in the past, present AND future. Killing a successful product means the troll has to go hunt for ANOTHER target to get income, rather than suck on the teat and then hunt for another target.

No, really? (4, Funny)

qbast (1265706) | about 2 years ago | (#40465781)

That's a truly groundbreaking discovery. I mean, who could possibly expect that patent trolling may be bad practice?

Re:No, really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466165)

Well if you have to look for an upside in what they do, making the status quo less profitable for industry giants might provide an incentive for reform.. (unfortunately it's becoming less selective since they seem to be okay with going after small fish these days too)

Re:No, really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467301)

I'm actually surprised -- that the number isn't higher.

Patent trolling and hedge funds (5, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about 2 years ago | (#40465795)

Both are ways of seeking malicious intermediation in other people's activities, and seeking to glean entrepreneurial profit. (It is also called "rent-seeking"). Patent trolls seek to make money by the ownership of the right to do something in which they have no actual interest: hedge funds try to manipulate the price of commodities which they neither produce nor consume, also for profit.

If patent litigation was limited to inventors and the users of the inventions, and commodities derivatives were limited to actual producers and consumers, I suspect we would see a sudden reduction in income inequality. But it isn't going to happen, because the accumulation of wealth with the entrepreneurs gives them too much control over law and its enforcement.

(I am using entrepreneur in the literal sense of a middleman who seeks to profit without adding value; its meaning has been extended to "people who start productive businesses", which is part of the devaluation of linguistic currency that has helped getting us into this mess.)

Re:Patent trolling and hedge funds (2)

foniksonik (573572) | about 2 years ago | (#40465905)

I checked on your claim of entrepreneur and found no reference. The only middleman referred to was one who was an intermediary between capital and labor. That's a good thing.

Citation needed for your negative version.

Re:Patent trolling and hedge funds (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40465915)

Both are ways of seeking malicious intermediation in other people's activities, and seeking to glean entrepreneurial profit. (It is also called "rent-seeking"). Patent trolls seek to make money by the ownership of the right to do something in which they have no actual interest: hedge funds try to manipulate the price of commodities which they neither produce nor consume, also for profit.

I don't see your comparison here at all. Can you explain how hedge fund managers expect to manipulate the price of commodities?

Profit is motivation for a lot of things. That doesn't equate those things.

Re:Patent trolling and hedge funds (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | about 2 years ago | (#40466127)

Without paying rent, where would one live? As cynical as you are, you largely ignore the benefit of entrepreneurship, which is capital for "rent" payers to profit from. Money isn't free, after all. No matter how you want to use the term, it has never been used as a derogative in the way you suggest. They are simply a class of investors, nothing less.

The critical difference with patents is that there isn't a mechanism for competition. Patent trolls are effectively operating legal extortion. You can't opt out or use alternatives, but you can buy your way out of litigation.

Re:Patent trolling and hedge funds (2)

dmbasso (1052166) | about 2 years ago | (#40466129)

I agree with your message (including the linguistic devaluation part), but...

(I am using entrepreneur in the literal sense of a middleman who seeks to profit without adding value; its meaning has been extended to "people who start productive businesses", which is part of the devaluation of linguistic currency that has helped getting us into this mess.)

From http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=enterprise [etymonline.com] :

enterprise
        early 15c., "an undertaking," from O.Fr. enterprise "an undertaking," noun use of fem. pp. of entreprendre "undertake, take in hand," from entre- "between" + prendre "to take," contraction of prehendere (see prehensile). Abstract sense of "readiness to undertake challenges, spirit of daring" is from late 15c.

So no, entrepreneur is one who adds value by assuming the risks involved in the enterprise.

Re:Patent trolling and hedge funds (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466367)

What's coincidental about your comparison is that several hedge funds/other wall street types are now actively involved with patent trolling. They see it as a great investment.

Big glaring difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467579)

Patent trolls rely on coercion (i.e. government) as their business model. In the absence of government and its special "right" to employ coercion (which it selectively lends to favored companies in the "private" sector), patent trolls could not exist.

Hedge funds rely on voluntary association (i.e. free choice) as their business model. In the absence of government, there is no reason to think that hedge funds wouldn't exist, since they don't require a special "right" to employ coercion.

Frosty Piss (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40465809)

Patent trolling not nearly as fun as trolling /.
Fact

Re:Frosty Piss (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40465827)

WIse words pour our your farty bum crack and smell of poop.

FACT

Now he gets to be the bully (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40465817)

Former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold, who now heads up the controversial Intellectual Ventures patent rights company, told the All Things Digital conference two weeks ago that "I was never a popular kid in class".

"I'm not going to be popular in this class."

translation: back in school he was beaten up on a daily basis. Now he's armed with patents and lawyers and is going after everyone else's lunch money.

Re:Now he gets to be the bully (5, Funny)

netwarerip (2221204) | about 2 years ago | (#40465875)

Former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold, who now heads up the controversial Intellectual Ventures patent rights company, told the All Things Digital conference two weeks ago that "I was never a popular kid in class".

"I'm not going to be popular in this class."

Maybe if he spent $250 and bought a freakin vowel he'd have a better shot.

Re:Now he gets to be the bully (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466681)

Norwegian ancestry, I see. Y is a vowel, h before another consonant is silent (and usually archaic), and "vold" in place names is an archaic form of "voll" (mound, embankment).

We don't usually modernize names, but it would turn into "Myrvoll", pronounced something like [my:r'vol].

Re:Now he gets to be the bully (1)

firex726 (1188453) | about 2 years ago | (#40465977)

Generally speaking, high up Execs of fortune 500 companies are not the kids getting beaten up.

You either got a fuck ton of talent and are sleeping with Lady Luck; or you got wealth&connections to get up there.
Ever notice how they don't go looking for CEO's on Monster?

That's a lot (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40465851)

The patent trolling industry is worth £29 billion a year??? We must protect this vital industry - just think of the loss to the economy if anything happened to it.

Re:That's a lot (1)

Ishikawakun (2390614) | about 2 years ago | (#40465929)

The patent trolling industry is worth £29 billion a year??? We must protect this vital industry - just think of the loss to the economy if anything happened to it.

Makes sense, scared now.

Re:That's a lot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466039)

"the costs have gone up fourfold since 2005."!! It's probably a growing bubble!

This time, instead of waiting for the bubble to explode, we should start giving them lots of taxpayer money preemtively!

Re:That's a lot (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466227)

Psst - you've apparently confused "news for nerds" with "news for lawyers." Down the hall, third door on the right, mind the fire and brimstone.

whats good for the goose (1, Funny)

fermion (181285) | about 2 years ago | (#40465855)

You know if the MPAA put such a number so that we would feel sorry all the starving children and whiny stuntmen and stop pirating films online, we would all be aghast that such nonsense was posted on our august boards. However, since it is patents, I am sure we will all find the validity.

Re:whats good for the goose (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 2 years ago | (#40465965)

Eeh. No.
Simple fact is that the USA has the largest number of lawyers per head of the population in the world. Add to that a large population in absolute terms, and you end up with a gigantic industry that just absorbs money from your economy to achieve very little in general.

Given the total GDP of the USA (15 T$), I'm surprised that only such a small percentage of lawyers seems to be a complete waste of money.

Re:whats good for the goose (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40465983)

You're smart. Why are you here?

Re:whats good for the goose (2)

w_dragon (1802458) | about 2 years ago | (#40465997)

While I agree to some extent, in the case of patents there are actual numbers we should be able to use to show the losses. Take the price paid to the lawyers for patent suits, add the settlement amounts paid to firms that don't produce anything using the patent in question, and you should have a rough idea of how much money is lost due to patents. 80B sounds high, but I could well believe that it's into the billions with some of the astoundingly high dollar amounts the courts award for these cases.

Re:whats good for the goose (2)

fermion (181285) | about 2 years ago | (#40467423)

To clarify, the abstract indicates that the paper is based on the same methodology the MPAA uses. It surveys the 'victims', asks them how much the patents trolls costs them, and then used that number. The abstract also talks about this not being a problem only for corporations, as we should be more concerned about the damage to small firms, or the 'children', even though the majority of the costs were to the large corporations.

The reality is that if Apple of IBM or MS makes a product using my patent, they should have to pay me. I should not have to sell my patent to a patent troll firm for pennies on the dollar so I can a some profit from my work. I do not necessarily deserve profit from my work, but neither does the large firms deserve to profit from my work without renumeration.

Which is to say people on /. often ask how can the MPAA claim that piracy is destroying the industry when box office sales are through the roof for the good films. Likewise we can complain that patent trolls are costing major corporations $15 billions, but in five years just the iPhone has generated 10 time that much in revenue, so not only can we ask if this is a significant figure in the grand scheme of things, but we can also ask if corporations were willing to compensate others instead of jumping to litigation if these numbers might be far smaller overall.

Re:whats good for the goose (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466057)

So, because of the MPAA inventing big numbers, all big numbers are now invalid.

Goddamn MPAA! When I thought they couldn't do worse, they also broke our big numbers!

Re:whats good for the goose (1)

gman003 (1693318) | about 2 years ago | (#40466957)

No, $2.9*10^10 for an entire national industry, per annum, seems a reasonable number. That's less than 0.1% of the entire national GDP.

Now, if MAFIAA lawyers were coming up with these numbers, it would be roughly $130 septillion ($1.3*10^26), including everything from companies that *would* have made actual products with their patents but found it more profitable to troll, to all the patent-invalidation appeal lawyers that lost business because no patents seem to ever get invalidated.

Alas. (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#40465907)

BU seem me trollin', they hatin'.

Cars kill thousands each year (0)

bunratty (545641) | about 2 years ago | (#40465921)

Cars kill thousands of people each year. It's time we get rid of this menace from society!

In case anyone misses the point, if we mention only the negative aspects of just about anything, we can make a poor argument for getting rid of it. Of course, this argument will convince only someone who already believes that because it's what that person wants to hear.

Same ethic as high frequency traders... (4, Interesting)

AttyBobDobalina (2525082) | about 2 years ago | (#40466003)

How do I link this story to another headline? http://news.slashdot.org/story/12/06/27/028249/high-frequency-traders-are-the-ultimate-hackers-says-mark-cuban [slashdot.org] Essentially, it's the same ethic at work - making money by gaming the system. For high frequency traders, it is exploiting technological loopholes. For patent trolls, it is exploiting legal loopholes. Talk about a shadow economy - what happens to the U.S. economy if and when these nefarious practices are ended?

Re:Same ethic as high frequency traders... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467933)

don't blame the players, blame the game

Re:Same ethic as high frequency traders... (1, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#40468067)

It's hard to feel sorry for anyone complaining about high frequency traders on the stock market. They are all there for the exact same reason, the self-interested purpose of making money.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that, go ahead and make money however you want, but complaining because someone is better at it than you is just whining.

Re:Same ethic as high frequency traders... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40468645)

The way I see techniques like this is that it's merely evolution, finding ways to expand and diversify. Whatever happens, there are positive and negative effects.

The human species has advanced to a stage where it creates laws and regulations to protect ethics and morals, except the people who create our laws are highly susceptible to corruption. this in itself is an evolution, that has come with positives (good laws that protect us and a decent society) and negatives (bad laws introduced due to corruption at high levels, and the rich getting richer).

It would appear that evolution has a different idea of when enough is enough. To us ordinary, decent folk, seeing dodgy stuff like HFT and patents stifling creativity is just flat out wrong, but neither are going to disappear anytime soon.

If the U.S ever ended these nefarious practices, it will be because it has found other ways that are too attractive or necessary to ignore, until then we're stuck with them, and the obligatory monthly articles inciting our rage.

I say it's not worth getting bothered about, but interesting to read for sure(though i'm quite sure i'm not the only one who is impressed by things like HFT, and even more interested in the future consequences).

RIAA math? (3, Insightful)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 2 years ago | (#40466007)

The study suggested that during 2011, 2150 companies mounted a total 5842 defences in US cases against intellectual property companies that owned and licensed patents without producing any related goods of their own.
As a result, companies lost an estimated $US29 billion in direct costs — legal and licensing fees

Well, yes, paying for a license or facing litigation is always going to be more expensive than simply copying someone else's work without paying for it. Similarly, copyright piracy costs trillions, according to the RIAA/MPAA, who think of every download as being a lost sale. That said, "things cost money" is not really a great argument for or against patents (or copyrights), but rather a simple statement of economics: would consumers and companies save money if they never had to pay for copies or licenses? Yes. Is that a reasonable argument for abolishing IP protection? No.

We have better arguments and better avenues for reform - damages based on patent owner's sales/licenses, instead of infringer's profits, for example - that may actually have traction. Trying to get Congress to reform patent law simply because licenses are expensive is destined to fail.

Re:RIAA math? (1)

Kergan (780543) | about 2 years ago | (#40467743)

That said, "things cost money" is not really a great argument for or against patents (or copyrights), but rather a simple statement of economics: would consumers and companies save money if they never had to pay for copies or licenses? Yes. Is that a reasonable argument for abolishing IP protection? No.

According to the RIAA/MPAA, your iPod is worth $8 billion [ted.com] . So their math is somewhat bunk, to put it mildly... Is that reasonable argument for abolishing IP protection? Not really indeed.

That said, it may be worth reminding that IP protection was introduced to protect publishers rather than authors. Before Gutenberg, it was dubious for anyone to claim a cut when a monk spent days or weeks manually copying a work so the original could move on to the next monastery. Movable type turned this process over its head. The nascent publishing industry, following the footsteps of Bossius in Venice (in 1492), lobbied hard to obtain artificial monopolies on whichever works they published. (Which, btw, publishers didn't necessarily own back then, since everything was deemed public domain the instant it ever got published.)

As for patent protection, it might have been useful from the Renaissance when it first appeared, to around when they nearly shut down the patent office on grounds that "everything that can be invented has been invented" (Duell, 1899). It's one thing to patent the wireless telegraph or the telephone, in a time where a fraction of the population has the skillset needed to understand how either works. It's another to patent algorithms, genes or -- the worst offenders of all -- processes and concepts as broad as one-click buying or designs, in a time where everyone and his dog can competently discuss the very same processes and concepts around a beer at the local pub.

A very subjective test is missing as part of the patent application process. As in, if it's trivial or obvious or easy enough to reverse-engineer for someone in the field, then it's arguably not patent-worthy. If I hypothetically come up with an algorithm that implements peer-to-peer contact sharing, I should not be entitled to patent the whole concept, and deny competition to come up with their own implementation. I should not even be entitled to a patent on my own implementation, since it would at best be laying down a thought process that no one but the most self-important prick would ever think he's the only person to be able to ever come up with it. On the contrary, good on them if they come up with their own version of the same thing or the exact same thing with a few mild differences -- I could then feed on their own ideas, for everyone's benefit.

Is that reasonable argument for strongly reforming if not abolishing IP protection? I would think so, except to the above-mentioned self-important prick.

Trolling (4, Insightful)

whisper_jeff (680366) | about 2 years ago | (#40466059)

Who here is surprised by this?...

I know I'm in the minority here in that I have no problems with patents (copyrights, on the other hand, are out of control...). I do, however, have a significant problem with patents being wielded by non-practicing entities. Patents being claimed and enforced by Microsoft or Apple or Google or Motorola or Samsung or whatever other company who actually does something is fine. I know many people here are outraged when a company actually enforces their patent and calls the company in question a patent troll but the truth is they are simply enforcing their rights as a patent holder, as is their right. That's the point of patent protection and I'm fine with that.

Non-practicing entities, however, aren't protecting their intellectual property. They aren't protecting their innovative edge over their competitors. They are leaches. That's it. That's all.

While I don't pretend to think that fixing the problem would be simple, it would be nice to require patent holders to actually be actively using the patent to be permitted to enforce it. Yes, I realize that becomes complex for patents that are granted before the innovated product comes to market but I think that's not an insurmountable detail to overcome. The point remains the same - companies that aren't practicing entities should have no authority or ability to enforce patents. That would solve so many problems across so many industries.

Re:Trolling (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466605)

I'm in agreement with you. But I'm posting as AC, for a variety of reasons. Namely, I am a patent attorney. I specialize in software patents and handle both prosecution and litigation. I also used to be a software developer, so I'm sensitive to the problems that software patents can cause.

So, with that being said I might be a little biased, but the reality is that I think most people would have way less problems with software patents if there were no more NPEs. The vast majority of patent litigation in the electronics/software industry is done by NPEs. While it does happen, you don't generally see the big firms suing the little guys. They typically sue each other, see,e.g.,Google, MSFT, Apple, and Samsung. If they want to see each other, who cares.

I think for there to be a workable NPE rule, you would have to limit the assignment of patents. It would be too unworkable to determine whether the company "practices" the patents. It would leave too much to interpretation. Moreover, it would be used to limit the scope of the patent to the items being practiced, which is not the idea of a patent. My rule would work like this:

1. Can only reassign in cases where your company or line of business is being sold
2. For a company to assert a patent they must show revenues from sales (other than licensing revenues)
3. You are on the hook for Attorney fees if Def wins on non-infringement (invalidity is more tricky, since its somewhat of a crapshoot anyway)
3. There would be an exception would for the original inventor/assignee, who need not show anything (they could essenttially by an NPE, if they wanted). They would still be on the hook for Attorney fees.

These are simple black letter rules, that would probably stop the vast majority of NPE suits.

Re:Trolling (1)

beaverdownunder (1822050) | about 2 years ago | (#40467187)

Making patents end on insolvency would be a great one too. No more vultures raiding carcasses.

Re:Trolling (1)

Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) | about 2 years ago | (#40466835)

If patents actually expired instead of the USPTO allowing the concept of submarine patents, then the situation might be workable. The best idea I've heard is what one of my friends has proposed. This would not apply to drug patents, but for everything else, you have to build a workable device to get a patent. That would eliminate vague software patents that have done nothing but enrich our legal system. However, you have to consider that the USPTO has a vested interest in allowing darn near anything to be patented as doing such continues to bring in money for them.

Re:Trolling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467647)

you have to build a workable device to get a patent.

Isn't that already the case?

Re:Trolling (1)

k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) | about 2 years ago | (#40467183)

I know I'm in the minority here in that I have no problems with patents (copyrights, on the other hand, are out of control...).

While the typical FLOSS advocate likes to differentiate (after the fashion of RMS and others) between patents and copyrights, I see a convergence between the two. If we disregard the case of software patents, which most people here are probably against, the main difference between patents and copyrights is that patents are for hardware and copyrights are for software that includes stuff normally classed as pure data (music, books) by people in the IT industry.

But this difference is likely to disappear in the future once personal 3D printing is perfected either via the evolution of devices like the RepRap [reprap.org] or via the development of more sci-fi-ish technologies like molecular assemblers. When that time comes, copyrights and patents will be virtually indistinguishable.

To most people, copyright is a concept that applies mostly to the faithful reproduction of certain pieces of information, such that the copy resembles the original in as close a manner as the medium allows.

Thus, it would be considered as copyright "infringement" if you distributed a movie ripped from a 25 GB Blu-Ray disc and re-encoded to, say, a more download-friendly 700 MB. As pure digital data, there's a vast difference between the original and copy. But ask any teenager, lawyer, or judge, and everybody would agree that the copy is the "same" movie as the original.

However, copyright has a broader definition to those deeply involved in the so-called "creative" industries. There, you could be sued for copyright infringement for producing and distributing a big-budget movie about students at a wizard academy forced to battle an evil warlock with a Nazi-like obsession for wizard purity. (You can probably get away with small-time fan-fiction though.) If copyright is merely about mechanical copying, why would Hollywood studios even bother negotiating with the authors or publishers of popular novels and comic books except purely for trademark purposes?

Re:Trolling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467703)

Patents are for hardware? Since when?

Re:Trolling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40467437)

NPEs are a middleman. A farmer in Iowa cannot sell his goods in California or New York. If the farmer was forced to sell his wares only to his immediate surroundings, he would have both a smaller market and lower prices. However, you have coops (that gather of the products) that sell it to distributors, who sell it to wholesalers, who sell it to retailers, who sell it to consumers. As a result, the farmer gets paid a better price than he would have gotten, and the consumer gets a product they would not have already had.

In this instance, the producer is the inventor. However, the inventor (in many cases) doesn't have the means (i.e., $$$) to either produce product embodying his/her invention and or license it to those that are. NPEs step in and provide a means for inventors to monetize their property. Otherwise, the inventor would get nothing from inventing.

There are some that say that patents should be abolished -- i.e., there should be no restriction on copying. Similarly, there was once a very popular philosophy that the farmer should share all of his goods with everbody else with the expectation that everybody else would share their products/services with the farmer. Depending upon your age, you may not have been exposed to this philosophy -- it is called communism, which turned out to be a complete failure. The farmer works harder when he/she recognizes greater profit from his/her work. Similarly, the inventor creates more ideas when they are compensated for them. Sure, in very limited circumstances, their are those altruistic few that will share their produce with their neighbors or their ideas with the software community. However, as a practical matter, people want to be rewarded for the fruits of their labor. Although distasteful to many, NPEs (in the patent world) and distributors/wholesalers/retailers serve that purpose by providing a market to the producers of both intellectual property and real goods.

Re:Trolling (1)

Circuit Breaker (114482) | about 2 years ago | (#40468633)

> I know many people here are outraged when a company actually enforces their patent and calls the company in question a patent troll but the truth is they are simply enforcing their rights as a patent holder, as is their right.

Of course it is their right. The outrage is that is actually IS their right. Yourself said "copyrights are out of control" -- but all copyright holders are doing is enforcing their (bought-and-paid-congress-for) rights. Where's the difference here?

> Non-practicing entities, however, aren't protecting their intellectual property. They aren't protecting their innovative edge over their competitors. They are leaches. That's it. That's all.

I've recently had this discussion with a successful investor who has had success in investing in companies developing technology with the intent to sell it later. They are NPE. Whoever buys something from them will be a PE. But if they as an NPE cannot protect the value of their research through patent, why would anyone buy it from them?

Saying NPEs have no right to sue means that you disagree with the concept of "company doing research in order to sell research results rather than sell product", because it becomes non viable. That might be fine, but most people don't think of that consequence when targeting NPEs. We need a different test to discriminate trolls from non-practicing but otherwise legitimate entities (universities, research shops).

e.g., ARM don't produce anything real. Only copyrighted and patented designs. They are an NPE.

Re:Trolling (1)

whisper_jeff (680366) | about 2 years ago | (#40468877)

Copyrights are out of control in as much the length of a copyright is simply insane now. I have no issue with a rights holder defending their copyright but I do not agree with life+50 (or 70, depending on the country) because that is insanity and abuse of the intent of the system.

Re:Trolling (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | about 2 years ago | (#40469245)

I really don't get all that buzz about non-practicing entities. Why can't a lone inventor protect something he created, but can't produce, yet a corporation can patent anything they like just because they own a factory? Restricting things this way will only shield big companies from the bad consequences of the patent system, while giving them even more force to bully small companies out of their markets.

A sane patent legislation would employ the requisites of non-obviouness, novelty, specificity and clarity. If the patent fail on any of those, it should be invalid. The patent owner isn't relevant. (Of course, I still thinks that enables too many patents, the right number of patents to enable is zero.)

The internet community could help out (1)

atomicxblue (1077017) | about 2 years ago | (#40466107)

We should try to tackle some of these patents by scouring the internet searching for any prior art to invalidate them. Companies no longer invent things anymore -- they just make money by trolling everyone else...

Re:The internet community could help out (1)

Phrogman (80473) | about 2 years ago | (#40466221)

So we need a detailed list of patents, a means to allow people to review those patents and a way to crowdsource prior art listings. Then the average joe can help break the chokehold the patent trolls and their lawyer thralls have on creativity and innovation. Perhaps even get companies to pony up a reward for successful breaking of patents?

Re:The internet community could help out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466665)

This has been tried before. The PTO even set up a pilot program. The problem is that most people love to talk how much they hate Software patents, but when it comes to actually doing something, they are too lazy. This is more problematic, when compounded with the fact that to properly understand a patent (especially the scope) you probably need to be a patent attorney.

It costs much more (0)

aglider (2435074) | about 2 years ago | (#40466361)

to the whole world!

between the lines (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#40466465)

So...what they're really saying is high ranking corporate lawyers are paid way the hell too much. I kinda knew that already actually.

Their Policy Recommendations (3, Interesting)

Grond (15515) | about 2 years ago | (#40466617)

Two of their policy recommendations: "More rigorous enforcement of the claim definiteness standard would be an excellent step forward. ... One promising policy reform is greater use of fee-shifting to favor defendants in cases brought by trolls."

I am probably regarded as a pro-patent advocate here, but I have made those same recommendations on Slashdot in the past. For example, from October, 2010 [slashdot.org] : "I am personally in favor of substantially tightening the enablement requirement (as well as the related written description requirement)." Enablement and written description are closely related to definiteness (they're all part of 112 [cornell.edu] ).

Or from earlier this year [slashdot.org] : "I favor greater use of fee-shifting in patent cases (i.e. patentee pays the other side's attorney's fees if the patent is invalidated)."

I say this not to say "I told you so" (I certainly didn't come up with the ideas on my own), but rather to point out that there are some important solutions that patent policy analysts agree on, even if they disagree about the nature or scope of the problems with the patent system. I think Bessen and Meurer are wrong about several things, but there's still common ground regarding policy recommendations.

Drop in a bucket compared to other things? (0)

Kergan (780543) | about 2 years ago | (#40466645)

Whichever the real cost of patent trolling is, I'd wager it's a drop in a bucket compared to the cost of bailing out banksters, or the cost of waging dubious wars. It doesn't make it any less relevant, mind you, but it seems to me that the latter two are much larger, lower hanging fruits.

Is it anything like.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40466765)

How the car insurance companies will save me $XXX.XX per year? Or, how the RIAA was taking 52 CD-ROM burners from each pirate they nabbed to inflate their numbers?

what would solve this problem (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | about 2 years ago | (#40467147)

1 work things so that you have to include the validity of the patent as part of the lawsuit

2 require that any patent be USED IN PUBLIC COMMERCE to prove its value

3 have as an automatic part of a suit that if you lose the suit you are liable for any and all business lost during the suit

4 any over time damages must be counted FROM THE TIME THE FIRST NOTICE was given (call this the Torpedo clause)
so that you can't get a patent sit on it for X years and then when like everybody is using the covered product start the lawsuits.

5 Also you must actively protect your patent* or lose any rights to damages (call this the Red October V Dallas Clause)

* note this does not mean you can't get a patent to keep something from being patented by somebody unpleasant (White Knight Clause)

Perspective (0)

DarthVain (724186) | about 2 years ago | (#40467523)

This could be looked at as injecting 29$ Billion into the legal economy. I mean Lawyers, Judges, Court Officials, all gotta get paid dawg!

Twice as much as music piracy (1)

djfake (977121) | about 2 years ago | (#40467919)

According to the RIAA, as "one credible analysis by the Institute for Policy Innovation concludes that global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year".

Lawyers (1)

Stan92057 (737634) | about 2 years ago | (#40468393)

Lawyers have to feed their family's too ya know.

...and that's just the way the big boys want it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40469511)

Like most things in our crony-capitalistic system this suits large corporations very well.
An out-of-control patent regime, like an out-of-control federal regulatory complex acts as an oligopolistic barrier to entry.

Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, software patents: all established by a corrupt political system to stifle competition.

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