Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 3rd Apr 2013 13:00 UTC
Legal Joel Spolsky is ramping up the fight against patent trolls, the scourge of small companies and startups trying to advance technology in new and interesting ways. Sadly, while Spolsky is right on the money on everything, and even though the fight has to start somewhere, I think he - and others - are doing the industry a huge disservice by focussing entirely on pure patent trolls, without actually addressing the other side of the coin: medium and large business engaging in the same patent troll behaviour.
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by galvanash on Wed 3rd Apr 2013 18:38 UTC
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I agree with the sentiment, but personally I think there are important differences between true "trolls" and large and medium businesses who partake in this behavior, even though the "racket" is essentially the same:

The worst of the trolls are financially weak and are purely in it for quick money, so they throw out very large blankets (lots and lots of "licensing" letters). They cannot in reality bring legal action in all of these cases, so they are from the jump in a weak position. They desperately try to hide this fact from individual targets by puffing themselves up and hiding key financial and licensing information from their prey. It is a short con, all it takes is a little bit of resistance and they fold.

This is the particular kind of troll Joel is talking about, and they can be defeated quite easily if all the targets know about each other and can organize.

It has little to do with the patent system, patent reform, or patents themselves. It is more about how to identify and respond to a protection racket. Getting businesses educated enough to know when they are being had, and giving them a way to organize their defense is a laudable goal imo.

Big corporations (or extremely well funded and diversified trolls) are an entirely different animal. They are not in it for quick money - it is a form of long con. They want the big prize at the end (whether it be money or market power), and are willing to spend considerable resources to get it. They don't pull the trigger until they are sure they are willing to go all the way...

I'm not saying it is right, but the reality is it is dangerous to fight these guys in court. It's easy to say everyone should just stand up to them - but sometimes they have patents, which stupid or not are legally valid... The have teeth and they have money - if you do not have both in equal amounts your odds of winning are very, very bad.

In either case the racket is the same, but there is a big difference between getting a letter from some NPE saying you should pay them a license fee because they have some obscure patent on ink jet printers versus getting a letter from Microsoft saying that you should pay them 5% royalties because your multi-milliion dollar widget business has bits in it that violate their not-so-obscure patents.

The NPE probably sent out thousands of those letters, has 3 lawyers and no money - Microsoft probably sent ten or so, has a army of lawyers and tens of millions in cash.

I'm sorry, but it just isn't the same thing.

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