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Fairy tale trolls and patent trolls share more than just a name. Both gather property of sorts–trolls gather trees and livestock from fields, and patent trolls gather patents. Neither serves a productive purpose–trolls destroy everything in their paths and patent trolls use the threat of lawsuits to prevent industrious companies from pursuing success. Thus, while the companies are sometimes more politely called “patent assertion entities,” it is easy to see why they are more commonly known as “trolls.”
However, there is one significant different between the two types of trolls. While conventional trolls existed only in fairy tales, patent trolls are a very real part of modern society. This article discusses a few of the many negative consequences of patent trolls. It says that patent trolls are “leading businesses to remove common services to avoid being sued–for instance, cafes are pulling WiFi access and websites are removing calorie counters.” Additionally, a program on NPR, titled “When Patents Attack!” discussed the negative impact of patent trolls. The transcript of the program is available here [PDF].
And last Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission said, “No more!” Edith Ramirez, Chairwoman of the FTC, made clear that the FTC is “ready to enforce its antitrust powers,” including the Sections 6(b) and 5 powers granted by the FTC Act. The FTC can used these powers to investigate and punish companies that use “unfair and deceptive” practices.
The FTC’s statement was generally well-received, especially its intention to use the 6(b) investigatory power to examine the pros and cons of patent trolls. For example, one article quotes David Balto, an antitrust lawyer, saying that the studies could play “a vital role in guiding Congress and regulators [on] how to put a stop to harmful and deceptive conduct.”
However, it is uncertain whether the FTC will be able to do enough. Some believe that because patents are “official monopolies granted by the government,” they cannot be challenged on antitrust grounds.
Will the FTC be able to stop the patent trolls? Will more measures be needed? What risk of unintended, negative consequences? What do you think?
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