All this talk of "patent trolls" is a red herring, fabricated by large multinationals to divert attention from the real issue--that they have no valid defense against charges they are using the technology of others without permission (see "Crackberry and the patent mill," Jan. 30, page 4). Their objective is not to fix the patent system but to destroy it. Patents threaten their market dominance.
Companies using someone else's technology aren't so genteel as to stop using it merely because they are politely asked to do so. Invention is rough-and-tumble, a patent merely a right to sue someone to not make your invention without permission. Unless you have the will and money to sue them, they will turn a deaf ear. Talk of patentees gaming the system is a hoax.
There's a reason the patent system works as it does. We didn't get here by accident. That's because of past abuse of the system by large companies that used their wealth to give inventors the runaround. Take the case of Edwin H. Armstrong, who spent years battling a legion of RCA attorneys over his FM radio patents. In the end, financially ruined, Armstrong committed suicide. Check out Tom Lewis' Empire of the Air. RCA committed similar abuses of the patent system against electronic television inventor Philo Farnsworth.
All this is not about present abuse of the system by inventors or a need for patent reform, but rather systematic past and present abuses by large companies. Witness the present conduct of firms like Research in Motion using the courts to drag out a final verdict. The judge in that case remarked about how delays frustrate justice.
When corporate America agrees to not use inventions without consent, American inventors, small entities and universities will agree to stop suing them.
As to the reexamination proceedings with NTP, it is far too early for anyone to count their chickens. The Patent Office customarily rejects cases on reexam only to later issue a reexam certificate. Since its patents have made it through three layers of the legal system, it is more likely NTP will prevail at the PTO. It seems unfair and an abuse of process to permit infringers to invoke a reexam after they've already lost in court. The time to do that is before court, not after.
As to encouraging creativity, that is the purpose of the patent system. We got here after 200 years of experience. Let's not jump the gun because a few large multinationals are whining about having to pay small entities to use their technologies.
Ronald J. Riley, President
Professional Inventors Alliance USA, Washington
As an independent inventor who has studied inventions and inventing for more than 40 years, I see an entirely different reality than Loring Wirbel (Opinion, Jan. 30, page 4). Some people are only now being introduced to this world of patents through a high-profile case like the Blackberry/NTP conflict.
A number of corporations, caught with their fingers in the cookie jar, have invented terms like patent trolls, patent mills and submarine patents. Until corporations had to pay heavily and repeatedly for infringing someone else's property, such terms never existed.
A patent is real property, as real as any piece of land, diamond jewelry or other physical asset. If someone tries to build without permission on your land, you would want to expel that trespasser, as NTP did. Research in Motion didn't bother to learn who held the deed, and when it built its business on property it didn't own, it had to pay up.
Wirbel mentioned patent mills that hold patents but do not intend to implement or practice their art. Like it or not, a patent belongs to the person or corporation that owns it.
The tech industry has played fast and loose with intellectual property for years. People copy software, CDs, DVDs. They felt they just didn't need to pay for what someone else had conceived or developed. This same unethical mentality now permeates the tech industry and is reflected in Wirbel's reasoning.
If someone isn't going to implement a patent, why can't I implement it for them? Hello! If someone has a patent that he is not implementing and someone else wants to implement it, all they have to do is ask the owner if they can make a deal. If they don't, then either that person finds another way around the patent or goes off and finds something else to do. You don't, however, go ahead and implement it without compensating the owner. That is theft. Pretty simple. No reforms, only good common ethical sense.
Chevy Chase, Md.