They’re baaaaack – patent trolls resurface on Capitol Hill

November 1, 2013

US CapitolAs I have written about before, “patent trolls” are made to seem like they are a Biblical plague sent to visit suffering upon saintly and martyr-like tech companies.

(Are they really? The Government Accountability Office says “Not so much,” but for the moment, let’s run with this idea anyhow.)

Tech giants like Google, Apple and Yahoo are pooling their ample muscle behind The Innovation Act, a proposed piece of legislation that would effect changes to the patent litigation system, making it more difficult for these “non-practicing entities” or “patent-assertion entities” to do business.

So, what is it that people hate about patent trolls? Reuters reporter Ros Krasny had a good rundown of Tuesday’s testimony regarding The Innovation Act before The House Judiciary Committee. It seems like the chief complaints of the day were:

  • Patent trolls seek to exert legal rights with regard to fairly basic features, like a “shopping cart” function on an e-commerce site.
  • Krish Gupta, deputy general counsel for EMC Corp., said patent litigation costs swelled to $29 billion in 2011.  Gupta does not define what he sees as a patent troll, but said there were 5,842 patent-infringement lawsuits filed by patent trolls that same year. Gupta’s implication (and that of many others) is that patent trolls are getting increasingly litigious and are leeching money away from “actual” companies. (Notice I said “implication.”)
  • An estimated 75 percent of patent infringement cases settle, leading to a “virtually guaranteed” payday for patent trolls, according to Kevin Kramer, Yahoo’s deputy general counsel for intellectual property.

To me, it is still a little puzzling how so much of the public perception of patent trolls seems to be flowing straight from the mouths of the Silicon Valley Titans. At least so far, this still seems to me like a very one-sided “public debate.”