The Whining Has Gone Mainstream. Even the Whining Requires Whining.
Yesterday, there was a lengthy article in The New York Times about companies that buy patents and then go after companies using the matter covered by those patents for licensing fees. Specifically, the article talked about Intellectual Ventures, a company run by the guy who was in charge of much of the science in Microsoft’s early days.
Steve Lohr, the author of that article, is apparently so passionate about the subject that he needed to write a blog post follow-up this morning. And as blog posts often do, that article reads more like opinion than journalism.
I’m fine with that. Yes, newspapers need to be dispassionate to a point, but in a world of competing 24-hour news channels it’s OK to add opinion (so long as the opinion is kept separate from the news).
So here’s reality from the Answer Guy Central Business Change side of things: Patent Trolls Are OK.
Let’s start by acknowledging something; this issue can be a bit tricky morally, but is way less so when viewed from a business perspective.
If we start with the assumption that lawyers, for all the benefit they are supposed to bring to society, are adding nothing to the GDP or GNP and therefore are “evil”, we see the immediate issue: companies like these patent-hoarders that don’t actually innovate but which benefit from the innovation of others are . . . icky.
On the other hand: these guys bought the patents, either with money or by assigning the right to re-license something. They not only did exactly what the system was designed for (insert additional disparaging-to-attorneys comment here), but they PAID THE INVENTORS.
Nobody would blink an eye at the idea of an inventor selling the rights to something he’d invented to a bigger company. But if you’re an inventor (conjure up mad scientist in a small room image), making those deals is very hard. So the inventors sells to these guys and these guys—bigger, stronger, and well-funded—extract the licensing fees.
There is, in fact, nothing wrong with this. You know, unless there is. But that position is a bit too utopian to play in the real world.
Business is a tough sport. Business Change is even tougher. This is how the game is played.