I’m pissed off. I’m pissed off because, as we speak, a software company called PacketVideo is currently suing Spotify for patent infringement, claiming that the company violated a patent for “distribution of music in digital form”.
Which is absolute bull****. It’s an absurd claim. It could mean a million things and pretty much any online streaming company that sells digital music is infringing upon the patent. But the worst part about all of this is that these types of patent suits aren’t uncommon and, even more infuriating, patents suits like these can be easily won. Patents that are meaningless drivel can be construed in such a way so as to reflect one small, insignificant feature of a product and then force companies infringing upon those patents to fork up huge sums of money to pay for damages from those suits.
That’s not to say that all patents are in fact nonsense. Most are, in varying degrees, intended to protect the intellectual property of individuals and companies. Regardless, there exists companies like Intellectual Ventures and others, who own thousands upon thousands of patents typically in an effort to procure patent licensing fees from big corporations.
And they suck. Why, you ask? Because while some companies are trying to innovate their products, and are discovering new ways to drive revenue in a struggling economy, other companies are quietly twiddling their thumbs in the corner, waiting to strike with patents that aim to protect loosely defined ideas that could pertain to a wide variety of technologies.
Intellectual Ventures owns over 35,000 of these confusing documents. And according to a recent report by NPR, their purpose is to essentially go around bullying smaller companies into paying licensing costs in order to protect themselves from much more intimidating, potentially devastating suits. Although IV describes themselves as a wholesale market for inventors to purchase patents, NPR found that aside from the one person that they were unable to get in touch with after months of reaching out to, they couldn’t find any inventors that had actually benefited from the company’s patents.
Because, for all intents and purposes, those people don’t exist.
Software developers have long loathed the use of patents for programming, mostly because they feel that it has stifled the creative process.
That sentiment is something that I couldn’t agree with more. Instead of inviting creativity and fostering an environment in which developers find new ways to innovate current technology, patent trolling instead seems to solely benefit the large corporations who control the huge archives of patents. These corporations use their huge archives of patents in order to protect themselves from other companies with similar archives.
It’s one thing to protect intellectual property. When a company has implemented a new way to interact with something on the web, or a new product, and other companies are blatantly ripping off that innovation, that’s when patents are useful.
But there’s an important distinction between using a particular patent, and simply sitting on it, waiting for the day that a company just barely infringes upon one word of it, just so that you can sue them. That’s messed up. And, unfortunately, that’s what companies like IV tend to do.
Right now, our patent system needs to change. It needs to be reformed. Yes, people should be protected for their intellectual property. And yes, those people should be able to receive compensation for that property. But when we have shadow corporations that exist only in name suing companies, those patents become self-serving, destructive ways to simply extract licensing fees out of companies that are incapable of adequately protecting themselves in court.
It’s unfair, and it needs to change.