"Patently Absurd": a brief review

Never mind trolls, how about
a patent trolley for Kats ...
Hearing that the BBC was broadcasting a radio programme on Tuesday night with the title "Patently Absurd", this Kat's whiskers started to twitch.  Given (i) the relatively poor record of the British media in even understanding the difference between a patent, a trade mark and a copyright, (ii) the generally negative manner in which patents and other intellectual property rights are portrayed in the popular British media and (iii) the lazy cliché of the programme's title.  While he was otherwise engaged and thus unable to glue his ears to the radio, he was fortunate that his informant, Dr Zoe Birtle, was able to grab a few busy minutes from her life as an associate at D. Young & Co in order to send us the following note:
Patently absurd: BBC radio 4. Still available on iPlayer

This program was reported from Marshall, Texas, where a large number of patent infringement cases are currently being filed due to the speed at which they can proceed to trial. Known as the "rocket docket" apparently, it only takes 18-24 months as opposed to 3-5 years to proceed to trial in Marshall. This has been very lucrative for the town.

The term “patent troll” was construed as “someone who buys patents and then sues people” in this instance.

The view of the programme was that (bad) patent trolls in the US are out of control, and buying up vast swathes of patents simply to extract 'licence fees' from (good and innocent) businesses that actually make products. Most business pay up even if they're not infringing any patents, in order to avoid a costly lawsuit.

The reporter traveled to Marshall to try to speak to some "trolls" and their "victims". However, they found that many people could not speak to them due to NDAs signed on settlement.

The reporter tried to interview a company called Lodsys which had tried to assert a patent directed to a floating point decimal against companies using Linux open source software. Red Hat attacked the patent and won. The judge stated that the patent was "impeding the march of science". No-one at Lodsys would comment on the case.

The reporter was able to speak to the owner of IPNav, another NPE or "troll" as labelled in this programme. He stated that he considers his business to be valuable, ethical, legal and lucrative. He was once a CEO who was sued by a NPE. The business model attracted him.

This interview was followed by discussion with some academics and electronic industry groups relating to the opposite view. Patent troll expert Professor Robin Feldman of UC Hastings said that patent rights are not the same as other property rights. The US constitution says the purpose of patents is to promote the progress of the useful arts. Society has a right and an obligation to bring them back into line if they are not fit for purpose.

President Obama has now intervened, with 12 new rules to reduce the impact of NPEs. Little detail of the rules was given here.

The gist of the programme is that British companies will be targeted if they do business in the US, but not that this is a problem in the UK.

The programme ended with a comment from “ troll” IP NAV owner Eric Spangenberg, who said "we (in the US) are using the courts as a market place and that is something they are ill suited to do". Therefore he is broadly in favour of the President's reforms.

None of this is new to us in the IP world, but it is interesting to see how this is presented to the lay person by a public broadcasting organisation. The perception of the IP world appears to be largely negative in the public sphere, as something which protects big business and harms the little man. Perhaps the IP world needs better PR? Or fewer trolls.
You can listen to "Patently Absurd" for the next few days via the BBC's iPlayer facility and enjoy it to your heart's content, says the IPKat [unless you are living somewhere in the world and/or are a business, in which case copyright law and sundry terms and conditions apply, adds Merpel ...]
"Patently Absurd": a brief review "Patently Absurd": a brief review Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, August 22, 2013 Rating: 5


  1. For those outside of the UK (as well as those in the UK) who are interested in the media's coverage of this topic- I highly recommend the radio program/ podcast "THIS AMERICAN LIFE" from WBEZ in Chicago/ Public Radio International - there have been at least three episodes on this topic, two of which were recently aired and covered the first episode with updates.


  2. It's not surprising that the general public has a negative view of IP. Many people have had negative experiences with patents, particularly small companies. They find patents complex and expensive. They encounter tremendous uncertainty in freedom to operate issues. The wider public hear of patent thickets and biopiracy, patent trolls and patent wars, patents covering embryos and genetically modified plants, patents pushing up the costs of drugs, patenting of human DNA, patenting of surfing the net, etc. It's understandable.

  3. Understandable yes, but that should be a strong incentive to get the contrary view out there.

    Unfortunately, a story like "patent for pharmaceutical X may potentially allow the wonder-drugs of tomorrow to be developed" is never going to make it into The Daily Mail, whereas "4 year-old with cancer left to die because potentially life-saving treatment is too expensive" probably will.

    The benefits of patents to society are much less immediately tangible, and certainly much less sensational, than the cost that is paid for them. They don't make good news.

  4. "The perception of the IP world appears to be largely negative in the public sphere, as something which protects big business and harms the little man. Perhaps the IP world needs better PR? "

    No, it needs to change so that it DOES address the needs of small business and not just those of corporates and those that live off of them. And please don't say it does as it simply doesn't as "Suleman" indicates. All the PR in the world from those who resist change isn't going to change the reality of the report that has reached an entirely legitimate conclusion.

  5. @Suleman - 'Many people have had negative experiences with patents, particularly small companies'


    Indeed, and especially once encountering the US system overseen by the USPTO.

    An entity whose lack of efficiency is only matched by a near total belief in the protection on domestic national interests no matter what.

    It comes as no surprise that the dead hand of patent trolling prevails and prospers in such a Wild West environment.

    I'd only wish BIS & IPO here and UKTI in Washington may move beyond 'yes, aren't they awful' to perhaps telling the US to stop imposing protectionist attrition defaults to anything that graces their fair shores.

  6. Patent trolling (especially the more speculative end of the market) is the single best reason for retaining s 70 of the PA 1977.

  7. Worth repeating on this thread (understanding will set you free):

    Too easily (and incorrectly) the label of "Troll' is tossed around as a dismissive pejorative.

    Let's try for some understanding.

    Serious series on the myths of trolls at:

    Yes, the same Steve Moore who championed the Taffas case.


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