The Wall Street Journal continues its focus on the patent troll problem with a provocative article by columnist Holly Finn: A Patently Obvious Problem. Finn notes the amazing growth the U.S. has seen in issued patents – 70,000 U.S. patents issued in 1977 compared to almost 250,000 in 2011. Finn provides a succinct description of the problem:
“When everyone owns bits of everything . . . everyone can be sued.”
Finn recognizes that most troll cases settle and calls for a tech CEO willing to make trolls a company’s cause. Finn has the right idea, but more than one company already has done that. For example, a group of companies, including Google, Adobe, and J.C. Penney, beat internet troll Eolas earlier this year — securing a jury verdict that Eolas’ patents were invalid. Finn identifies Fark.com founder Drew Curtis’ TED talk titled “How I Beat a Patent Troll.”
What is really required to begin fixing the problem is a large number of tech companies banding together not just to defend common troll suits, but to come up with and promote solutions to the troll problem — click here for some of my thoughts on how to limit trolls and their impact. Real change likely also requires Congressional action, which seems unlikely in the near term. Congress passed and Obama signed the first major patent reform in fifty years last fall and seems unlikely to act again soon. Of course, retailers can play a role in this by joining up with the tech companies — the real parties in interest in most troll cases — and lending their ideas, reputation and support.