Anticipate This!™ | Patent and Trademark Law Blog

When Patents Attack! – Audio Report from TAL.

Posted in General Commentary by Jake Ward on July 25, 2011

JW Note:  An interesting report on so-called “patent trolls” from This American Life (TAL), a weekly hour-long radio program produced by WBAZ, hosted by Ira Glass, and distributed by Public Radio International (PRI). 

A summary and transcript of the report is below, and a link to the audio is here.

Why would a company rent an office in a tiny town in East Texas, put a nameplate on the door, and leave it completely empty for a year? The answer involves a controversial billionaire physicist in Seattle, a 40 pound cookbook, and a war waging right now, all across the software and tech industries. (Transcript)

6 Responses

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  1. Greg Watson said, on July 25, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Definitely worth the listen!

  2. les said, on July 28, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I was very disappointed in TAL when I heard this story on Sunday. I could here attempts at being fair, but ultimately, the reporters took everything they were told at face value. They did an hour on patents and never once mentioned the claims at issue. Someone shows them that 5000 earlier patents use words similar to the words used in the asserted patent and they let themselves be told that that has some significance. They never once compare the claims of the asserted patent to what is disclosed in any of the 5000 earlier patents. They say the asserted patent has something to do with automatic updating of software, when it has absolutely nothing to do with automatic updating of software and is instead, about backing up files over the internet.

    Sigh….when you know something about a topic, it is really shocking how wrong media stories about it are.

  3. Jake Ward said, on July 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    I agree with you 100%, Les. I cringed throughout this story, but felt compelled to listen to an NPR report on patents nonetheless.

  4. patent litigation said, on August 1, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Certainly the patent system, like any other, has flaws as well as bad actors; but this doesn’t strike me as a good enough reason for throwing out the baby with the bathwater and completely trashing a system that has given us the steel plow, cotton gin, and light bulb. Rather, it speaks to me of the necessity of addressing the patent troll issue. For one thing, trolls on average win 3 times more than practicing entities in patent litigation; removing this incentive of an oversized payday could go a long way toward reducing the number of trolls. Also, more corporations might look into obtaining the services of a patent aggregator or exploring the option of patent reexamination when hit with a patent infringement suit.

  5. Todd Stanley said, on August 9, 2011 at 10:24 am

    As a software I have seen patents negatively impact on nearly every product I have worked. The patent system is ill suited for software, as the infamous Compton’s patent plainly showed, way back in 1994. The industry is rife with patents that only have little technological merit and serve only to generate income. You may not have liked the TAL piece, but face it, the system is badly broken!

  6. Jake Ward said, on September 2, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Todd – No disrespect intended, but your comment is full of conclusions, with little-to-no support to back them up.

    Initially, I disagree that the patent system is inherently “ill suited” for software-based methods. Yes, the Patent Office should be appropriately funded, and Examiners better trained to examine software-based methods, but the policy reasons that exist for patenting machines, compositions, articles of manufacture, etc. equally apply to methods. If a method is truly new, useful, and non-obvious, then the method should be deserving of patent protection, regardless of whether it involves an execution of software or not.

    As for the contention that patents “serve only to generate income”, what patents are not intended to generate income for their holder, in some way, shape, or form? If there was no real business benefit (read $$$) to obtaining patent protection, then no one would seek patent protection for new inventions. The fact that patents serve to generate income is evidence of their value to business, not vice-versa.


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