It sucks to be Paul Allen. Bill Gates’ co-founder of Microsoft just had his huge software patent lawsuit against almost everybody in the whole world thrown out of court.
OK, it actually rocks to be Paul Allen; despite having had one failure after another since leaving Microsoft, the guy’s a billionaire dozens of times over and lives like a king. But last week a federal judge dismissed the huge lawsuit Mr. Allen filed a few month back, and the tech-geek-cum-patent-troll is going to have to start over. What a mess.
I’m pretty clear in my opinion about software patents; they’re almost always a very bad idea. That said, software patents are currently a big part of the business change landscape, and there are entire companies devoted to nothing more than buying patents and then taking anyone and everyone who “violates those patents” to court.
When Paul Allen filed his atomic bomb software patent lawsuit, I pointed out that he had every right to do so. Paul Allen may have become a patent troll, but while software patents are awful and patent trolls might seem to have all the redeeming characteristics of the lawyers who represent them, anyone who owns patents ought to be defending them.
The question now is this: has the proliferation of software patents created a business change tipping point?
Paul Allen’s lawsuit was thrown out of court because, like the software patents it was about, the lawsuit didn’t say anything concrete. It was too vague. Allen was suing too many companies over too many things, failing to adequately describe what patent violations had been committed, and generally making claims that didn’t make any sense.
Sadly (or happily for me, coming from the position of a non-attorney intellectual property consultant), this is the point about software patents; too often, as in the case of Facebook’s Newsfeed Patent 7,669,123, they don’t describe anything unique enough to qualify for patent protection.
But the business change issue isn’t even about the issuance of software patents; that’s become a given. The business change is about how we deal with patent trolls like Paul Allen.
Allen’s lawsuit will be re-filed. He’ll continue attacking for a long time to come. In the meantime, ask yourself what you’re doing to manage business change in a world where this kind of story merits discussion.