The U.S. patent system is supposed to foster innovation and reward inventors. But in recent years it has devolved into an epidemic of licensed blackmail with shell companies using flimsy patents to shake down productive companies — especially in the tech sector.
Today, technology firms launched a new website called Patent Progress to call attention to the patent problem, and to share solutions from legal and policy experts. The site is run by the Computer & Communications Industry Association, an advocacy group that counts Google (s goog), Microsoft(s msft), Yahoo(s yhoo) and Facebook(s fb) among its members. Its contributors include leading intellectual property and antitrust lawyers and scholars.
The significance of the site is that it adds new intellectual heft to a growing patent reform movement in Congress and the courts. Patent Progress also provides plain English explanations of topics like “trolls” and the “Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit” which have contributed to the patent problem. The site also has a helpful dictionary of terms like prior art and payday mugging (“the phenomenon of small start-up companies being targeted with litigation by patent plaintiffs immediately after receiving venture capital investment.”)
“The goal is to build a narrative towards a bigger picture legislative solution,” said Dan O’Connor, a policy expert and director at the CCIA.
Will all this be enough to stop the patent troll epidemic that, according to a recent academic study, has drained $500 billion from the US economy in the last decade?
In the short term, probably not. The trolls and their lawyers have invested too much in their sprawling legal campaigns (which rely on “inventions’ like emoticon patents) to stop now. And Nathan Myhrvold, the man most responsible for the patent mess, continues to gull media outlets into believing his shakedown campaigns are a force for global good.
But in the bigger picture, the launch of Patent Progress coincides with a growing public awareness, reflected in radio shows like NPR’s “When Patents Attack” and websites like PatentTrolls.org, that there is more to patent policy than romantic images of Thomas Jefferson or Steve Jobs.
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