Can you stand a non-Ferguson, non-ISIS, non-Obama post?
We should consider abolishing patents entirely.
Ken White tells us about the newest and most outrageous ploy by a patent troll: suing the lawyer that is trying to stop their abusive activity. A troll is an ugly monster who sits under a bridge and demands a toll for people to cross it, even though he provides no service whatsoever. A patent troll is an ugly monster who registers a ridiculous, overbroad patent, and then goes around suing and demanding cash settlements from people who do standard activities that he claims infringes on his patent.
The classic example is the guy who claims he invented podcasting. As I recall the story, he read stories from magazines and put them on cassette tapes, and filed a patent for this. In 2009, he “updated” the patent to include downloads from URLs on the Web. So now, if you are a podcaster, this guy might sue you — even though his supposedly original invention contributed zero to modern-day podcasting. For example, he sued Adam Carolla, thought to be the most successful podcaster in existence — and Carolla recently settled with him.
Abusive litigation is one hallmark of the patent troll, and in 2008 this very blog noted (for example) someone suing a patent troll tracker for defamation. Suits over patents tend to take place in the Eastern District of Texas. There is a little town there called Marshall that has numerous unoccupied office spaces which serve as the headquarters for plenty of “inventors” and their companies. The jurisdiction famously caters to patent trolls.
So there’s your background. Ken’s news is that one patent troll company is suing, not just the company that owns the patent, but their lawyer as well. Ken says: “Landmark Technologies has been widely described as a patent troll based on its model of demanding payments from businesses that accept credit cards online.” Landmark has sued eBay and eBay’s lawyer. Why eBay’s lawyer? Because he attempted to have the Patent Office re-examine Landmark’s patents. They claim this constituted any number of a laundry list of torts. As Ken points out, the Patent Office agreed with the lawyer as to one of the patents, and (by agreeing to re-examine them) showed that they believed there was a substantial question as to the others.
We’ve seen this type of abusive litigation, including suing lawyers who try to help victims, before. Hint: et-bray imberlin-kay.
Ken says: “However, the fact that patent trolls are willing to abuse the system like this — and lawyers are willing to help them — demonstrates the need for substantial patent reform.” Yes, I agree.
May I suggest abolishing patents?
Stephan Kinsella of AgainstMonopoly.org has argued that patents do not, in fact, encourage innovation. Instead, they cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars, stifling innovation and creating a sort of oligopoly. I find his arguments convincing. The empirical evidence appears to contradict the notion that we need to use government power to restrict how ideas are used, or we will get no new ideas. I don’t have time for a full exposition here, but wanted to mention the idea to get a discussion going.
Also: Ferguson! ISIS! Obama!
UPDATE: I have changed the link to Kinsella’s argument since the YouTube video was not working. You can hear his argument here.
I will have more to say on this topic, as it is clear from the comments that the post has been misconstrued (I am not arguing that we abolish patents simply to deal with patent trolls, for example) and that the arguments in favor of abolishing patents are being given short shrift. It makes sense, I suppose, since (as I said) I didn’t really have time to make the case this morning — but I plan to do so in coming days.