I was looking at the court case between Nintendo vs Sony/Every Technology Company In the World regarding motion sensor devices, and noticed that Nintendo said that their little hand held console device that looks like a TV remote has… well, guess how many patents? It looks like a TV remote and has a handful of buttons on it. One patent? 5? 10? 25? Nope, he said 50 to 55 patents. What chance does the little guy (me!) have when we can barely afford one patent to protect our IP? Which is why when court cases like NTP vs RIM (Blackberry) come to our attention, we yell YAY!

Hmm, sometimes we yell YAY! Most of the time the reports are quite pejorative and the journo gives in to the temptation to trash the underdog. In the Blackberry vs NTP example, much is made of the fact that the email push program that was under dispute was owned by a company setup solely for registering and ownership of that IP – in this case NTP. Hell Yeah! Why would I put my company and livelihood at risk, including my staff’s, by placing the ownership of my patents under my main company name? Especially when major companies are so keen to take to court anyone who even dares to breathe in ‘their’ area of dominance? Forget the fact that I heard that Blackberry copied NTPs patent word for word, including their images, who wants to fight the big boys? Here’s redchip‘s (the lawyer) article about small companies being patent trolls. (If you want a direct link to the article it’s here):

redchip comment

What these two cases highlight is the rise of what is being referred to as “patent trolling”. Times have moved on from the days of simple domain squatters and these “trolls” (mostly small technology companies with minimal assets other than their patent holdings) are systematically registering or acquiring a wide variety of fundamental software patents which they never intend to commercialise. What they then rely on is somebody else coming up with and commercialising a similar idea. The “troll” then demands licence fees for the patent under the threat of litigation.

Obviously the term “troll” is designed to marginalise companies who employ a strategy of aggressive intellectual property assertion as part of their business model. When you consider that the usual targets of IP assertion strategies are large companies, one may infer that the “troll” slur is part of a broader battle plan being implemented by these large corporates who find themselves breaching the patents of others. One thing is certain – we will see a lot more action on this front, not all of which will be beyond our shores.

I totally agree: the term troll is designed to marginalise companies, usually small or holding companies, who attempt to protect their small to medium size companies IP from the bullying tactics of the large companies. So my company “blahblah company” holds my patents for online communities, while World Communities (the one you know and love) does the work.

However – and its a big but – when a large company does it, its called “green fields patenting”. Basically they patent something that they won’t develop simply as a comeback in negotiations with other large companies. So if IBM (for example) infringes on Microsoft’s patent (for example) and Microsoft go to IBM and say “hey! that’s our patent”, IBM will go through their files and find a patent that Microsoft may be infringing. Then they have ammunition when they sit down to negotiate. Probably neither side really cares about the patent or developing it, but its fun and well, it keeps the lawyers busy.

Well that was my 2 cents worth and now I’ve spent it. If you know of an online community that supports entrepreneurs, or development of patents, let me know? Or even a DUMMIES GUIDE TO IP. Heh. I wonder where the term “green field patents” comes from? In engineering its a project with no constraints from prior work. So I guess big companies say “we aren’t playing in this space right now, but we might want stop our competitors in next 10 years”? Now who’s the troll hmmm?

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