The Innovation Act of 2013, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan coalition, offers a host of fixes to the problem of patent trolls—whose abusive litigation has exploded in recent years, putting a drain on our innovation economy and harming innocent end users.
Patent trolls buy up patents and use them offensively against unsuspecting businesses—without creating or selling anything themselves. Making broad claims of infringement based on patents of questionable validity is the troll’s favorite move. Most defendants choose to settle because patent litigation is risky and expensive—and trolls offer settlement amounts that, although still incredibly burdensome, are far cheaper than a lawsuit. Businesses who are targeted—including cafés running Wi-Fi, app developers, offices using scanners, and podcasters—lose both time and money, and innovation suffers.
In a televised question-and-answer session in February, President Obama weighed in. “They don’t actually produce anything themselves,” he said of trolls. “They’re just trying to essentially leverage and hijack somebody else’s idea and see if they can extort some money out of them.”
About a third of the way into the 45-minute “Fireside Hangout,” Obama fielded a question from Limor Fried, an electrical engineer and proprietor of Adafruit Industries, a New York DIY and tool shop. (Google picked the president’s five interlocutors, based largely on their online popularity, and flagged for the White House ahead of time which topics would likely come up.) “When I go around and talk to other entrepreneurs,” Fried explained to Obama, “what I hear is they’re worried that if they become successful they’re going to be targeted by software patent trolls.” Sure, the president and Congress have passed some legislation on patents, she granted. But what about that?
What had been a lawyer-saturated fight between tech-industry giants has become a conversation between the president of the United States and a pink-haired electrical engineer from SoHo.
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My father received a number of patents in the 1960s and 70s. By prearrangement, he signed them over to his employer since he was doing the work for them. Though he never really got much out of the patent himself–just his regular salery–this perhaps the way these things usually work.
So here’s one idea for patent reform: by legislation, make a patent transferable only between an employee and an employer and its verifiable legitimate successors. For this purpose, a patent would not be marketable outside the corporate sphere (subsidiaries, divisions, maybe certain other affiliates) of its owner. If a company tries to sell a patent outside that sphere, the patent would be void and open for public use.
This scheme would protect the rights–and therefore the incentives–of companies that pay the actual costs of innovations, but only they would be protected since only they took the risks involved.
Of course, what this would mean is that Congress would have to define patents as a species of property not subject to common property law. In old legal terms, the patent would be “entailed” on its developing corporation.
What about a garage inventor wishing to sell a patent he secured to a company that can manufacture or otherwise use the content of the patent? Well, perhaps the inventor retains his ownership and only leases the patent for a period that’s mutually agreeable.
I’m all for the concept of “intellectual property,” including the right to license it as an open source. What I don’t like is the comodification of the “products of the mind,” in part because they are **always** based in large part of the work of predecessors (you know, Newton “Giants”) and would be impossible without that common fund of knowledge, but also because it *human.* Just a human labor should not be a commodity, neither should human thought.
This might simply turn the big players into patent trolls and destroy small businesses.
I’d rather LadyAda get and contribute patents to an open hardware pool than to have everyone be shutdown by Apple and Microsoft. See Steve Job’s “touch” patent.
We need to eliminate the trolls, but some of the worst are the big companies.
You have to read the details of the bill (and as it gets amended and corrupted through the process).
I propose a simple scheme for patent’s expiry time: Shorten the expiry time significantly, every time that the patent is transferred to a new entity. Let’s say as an innovator I patent a design and it would expire in 15 years. If after 5 years some other entity decides to buy my patent, instead of 10 years of remaining expiry date, the expiry becomes 6 years for example. This way we can shift the motivation of making money out of suing others to making money by producing / manufacturing / making things.