Singing Loudly: Fighting the System

Singing Loudly

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Fighting the System

It's not the social security system that is in any danger of collapsing (as any honest Congressional member will tell you); it's the patent system. At least, that is what a group of Senators are trying to get people to see.

These days the patent office looks like California during the Gold Rush, with companies, universities and individuals stampeding to sew up as much "intellectual property" as fast as they can.

So what is it that is creating a problem in the system? Well, places like TI and IBM and other mammoth-sized tech firms would argue that it's the affectionally labeled "trolls" who are causing the problem. The people who scoop up patents in everything they can. The problem comes when a tech firm creates something useful only to get sued by a "troll" who says he has a patent in an aspect of that work.

The tech firms want a higher standard for when such injunctions are granted, and want damages to be based only on the portion of the product covered by the patent in question, rather than the patent being considered essential to the whole product or service.

There are, of course, two sides to every coin. The "trolls" would argue that they aren't doing anything illegal, and if the standard is changed to proportional damages the big firms would always steal the idea and pay a little fine as a cost of doing business.

But small inventors, and representatives from other industries such as biotechnology, argue that the hammer of injunction and high damage awards are the only things that hold back big companies from trampling on smaller competitors' patents, crushing them in the marketplace and then simply paying any fines as a cost of doing business.

Only time will tell what will come of the patent system. One thing we can be sure of is that President Bush would have no clue in his mind what anything relating to patents even means.


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