Updated March 26 at 9:26pm

Patent trolls – ugly, taxing brake on U.S., innovation

Guest Column:
Charlie Kroll and Kathie Shields
Trolls – once devious, fearsome members of a mythical race – are now an unwelcomed reality in our modern innovation economy. More

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OP-ED / LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Patent trolls – ugly, taxing brake on U.S., innovation

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Trolls – once devious, fearsome members of a mythical race – are now an unwelcomed reality in our modern innovation economy.

More politely referred to as patent-assertion entities, patent trolls do not develop or sell new technologies. Rather, they exist to deploy large patent portfolios against productive businesses, dragging down our economy, costing us jobs and putting a tax on our most innovative products and services.

Here in Rhode Island, we are building a vibrant cluster of entrepreneurial tech startups that are developing innovative new products and services, and most importantly, creating jobs for Rhode Islanders. The abusive tactics of patent trolls pose a very real threat to the growth of our own local innovation sector.

Our patent system was designed “to promote the progress of science and the useful arts” that would not otherwise occur. However, in the fast-moving Internet and software-driven economy, we are witnessing the opposite: patents are actually slowing innovation and serving the interests of exploitative trolls.

Many patent-infringement claims made by trolls are highly dubious, including suits claiming infringement for scanning documents, using WiFi routers, and for using store-locator and online shopping-cart features on websites. No longer just a problem for tech companies, patent trolls are now targeting banks, credit unions, retailers, hotels, restaurants and Main Street businesses that use these commonplace technologies.

Consider the case of one of the most audacious patent trolls, Innovatio IP Ventures. Innovatio owns a portfolio of patents that it claims covers any sort of WiFi implementation, and they have used this to sue coffee shops, grocery stores, hotels and many other business that offer WiFi to customers. What’s more, Innovatio frequently targets individual franchisees (rather than the corporate parent) that have no idea how to deal with a patent-infringement lawsuit. Instead of getting involved in a costly legal battle, these small businesses almost always settle for a few thousand dollars, which Innovatio gladly pockets and then moves on to the next target.

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