The 21st century has witnessed the age of the patent troll come to fruition, with several corporate patent-hoarding entities and unlikely consortiums created for the express purpose of taking tech companies to court, sometimes on the slimmest cases of alleged infringement, creating, in essence an innovation tax, with the litigation used as cudgel to extract payment from the companies targeted.
Twitter meanwhile has charted a different course, supposedly wants to reform the patent system by creating its own Innovator’s Patent Agreement (IPA) where it insists that its patents will be only used for “defensive purposes” and not in “offensive litigation” without the permission of all the inventors listed within the patent – hoping that the required unanimity will stall any lawsuits except in the most egregious cases of infringement. While it remains to be seen whether this is a viable policy for patent defense, Twitter still inhabits the real world, and recently paid IBM $36 million for a portfolio of 900 patents to avoid becoming embroiled in a lawsuit with Big Blue.
Whether Twitter’s IPA is the answer to the the problem of patent trolling or just the latest destined to fail attempt at thwarting the practice of patent trolling, it is widely agreed that the monetary and intellectual costs associated with defending lawsuits and the threat of litigation is a drag on innovation and corporate resources and something needs to be done sooner than later. The irony is of course that those corporations who decry patent trolling the loudest are often while engaging in it themselves, with companies such as Google, Microsoft, Samsung and Apple all fighting it out in high-profile patent disputes, their position on the fairness of patent trolling seems to shift from case to case based on whether they are the defendant or the plaintiff at that particular moment.