How should we balancing patent owner rights against frivolous lawsuits and patent trolls? The monetary value in a patent resides in the exclusive license that is granted to exercise that intellectual property for a period of time. It is enforced through patent lawsuits when copycats infringe the patent. For those inventors who have neither deep pockets nor law degrees, their only opportunity to capture the value of a patent may lie in selling it to someone who will enforce it.
It should be recognized that much of the hand-wringing over patent abuse is driven by a very few highly vocal companies many of which that seem to have no respect for US law. These companies are quick to introduce new (often competing) products to enter a market or gain market share. Many do not bother to check to see if their new product will infringe existing patents which protect the inventions of others. When the lawful owners of those rights approach the company the cry of "patent troll" is loud and clear. I analogize these situations to the reckless freeway speeder that blames bad cops when they get a ticket.
Take as just one example Level Up who has created a press circus with their attacks on so called "patent trolls". In all of the name calling and finger pointing, it seems that LevelUp is more interested in press than the costs of litigation. LevelUp itself filed one of the three suits which it claims is draining its money! http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/startups/2013/11/levelup-patent-trolls-lawsuits-boston.html?page=all Next, apparently having finished with its press opportunity, LevelUp immediately makes an extraordinary request to stay the litigation that it was so quick to file! One has to wonder about such unusual activities.
LevelUp is but one example of many companies using the "patent troll" label in criticism of the licensing activity of legitimate patent holders. That criticism is however unsupported by the facts. In the November 7, 2013 U.S. Senate testimony by noted patent law scholar, Professor Adam Mossoff, he eloquently debunks the myth of the "patent troll." Mossoff urges policy makers to appreciate that the business model of patent licensing companies is neither new nor alarming. Such companies are, in fact, entirely necessary for a healthy innovation economy.
Most readers of this column are well aware of the important role that venture capital plays in funding research and experimentation that ultimately leads to new and innovative companies based on new technology. Such technology is often quite brilliant in its solution of long standing problems or needs. Which of the readers would be willing to invest the kind of money that this research takes, without the availability of patent protection to ward off unscrupulous copyists. By making it impossible, or at least very difficult for these companies and their investors to protect valuable intellectual property, it will also make it very difficult to attract the investment money that is necessary to get off of the ground, or to succeed and recoup the cost of the innovation.