Trolling the Patent Trolls [New at Reason]

It's been a bad year for patent trolls, from a Supreme Court decision squelching their ability to funnel lawsuits to East Texas, to this week's ruling that Personal Audio LLC can't claim it owns a patent on the entirety of podcasting. In the latest Mostly Weekly, Reason's Andrew Heaton explores what patent trolls are, the damage they do, and the next step in driving them out of courtrooms and back into dank caves.

Trolls camp out on piles of weak and frivolous patents, hoping to one day sue inventors and businesses. Many of the patents they register or buy are vague, representing novel ideas only insofar as trolls are innovative at finding things they didn't invent to claim legal ownership of. It doesn't matter that these patents wouldn't hold up in court, because a business is more likely to pay off a troll than to hire an expensive attorney to fight them. Trolls suck more than twenty billion dollars out of the economy each year.

The parasitical nature of "non-practicing entities" (the PC term for trolls) has raised questions about whether the modern patent system helps or hinders innovation, and if the best solution is for comprehensive reform or just to burn the whole thing down.

Heaton has an idea to hinder patent trolls. It may not be a silver bullet, but it will definitely piss them off.

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