This American Life: When Patents Attack

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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17 Responses

  1. James K says:

    And US intellectual property law is a problem in more ways than one. Whenever the US government negotiates a free trade deal with another country, they inevitably include a provision that requires the country to move their IP laws to be closer to what they are in the US.Report

  2. Anderson says:

    Great piece. For one, NPR never ceases to remind me of what truly high-quality journalism is, and why that’s so important in a society that’s saturated in public relations; six for every journalist, according to the Economist (… As for the patent side of things, I know patent-reform bills recently passed both the House and Senate with bipartisan, and White House, support ( Sections that say things like, ” reins in frivolous false-marking lawsuits, a recent growth industry in abusive litigation, by limiting suits only to those parties who have actually suffered competitive harm” and “creates an administrative program for review of business-method patents, the patentability of which was sharply restricted in the Supreme Court’s recent Bilski decision, providing a much cheaper alternative to litigation and allowing the experts at the Patent Office to review business methods in light of proper standards and the best prior art” sound promising… But, honestly, I don’t speak enough legalese to determine how effective this law actually be. Either way, good to see this issue get attention. Like the piece said, patents are enumerated in the constitution for a reason and should be a positive force for innovation, not a death-by-litigation detractor.Report

  3. DensityDuck says:

    “Obama is a socialist!”

    “Now now, that’s silly over-the-top rhetoric. I can’t take you seriously when you make such ridiculous statements. By the way, people who support the current concept of property rights are just like the Mafia.Report

  4. Did you listen to the piece, DD?Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Elias Isquith says:

      You’re claiming that a comparison of Intellectual Ventures to the fucking Mafia is not bombast but is in fact a bare statement of the facts?Report

      • I’ll note Elias said this: “..[T]he defenses mounted by Intellectual Ventures and its representatives are in essence indistinguishable from those put forth by la cosa nostra.”

        Not that the policies, procedures, etc., are similar to the Mafia, but that the *defenses* of the practices are.

        Disclaimer: I haven’t listened to the piece.

        Second Disclaimer: I’d likely agree with the piece, as I have serious problems with IP laws, particularly patent law as it applies to software/non-mechanical inventions.Report

      • Plinko in reply to DensityDuck says:

        IV makes money by shaking down companies for money as payments for ‘licensing’ patents. They can do so because they threaten lawsuits which would be enormously expensive to fight to companies that are most likely not actually infringing on their patents, but seem superficially applicable enough to file a suit.

        The defense is that they’re just offering companies protection from lawsuits, just as the Mafia is offering you protection from having your place burned down if you don’t pay their protection money.
        I think limiting just to the defense of their business model is very generous, but feel free to dispute it by addressing the actual piece.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Plinko says:

          Let’s not forget that my original post was about rhetorical excess, not about the specifics of what Intellectual Ventures is doing. If calling Obama a communist automatically invalidates everything you say, then why doesn’t that apply across the board?

          I mean, do you people really not recognize the ad hominem fallacy?Report

          • Plinko in reply to DensityDuck says:

            I’m pretty sure you’re engaging in the fallacy here.
            Ad hominem is by definition attacking the person instead of the argument. Elias’s statement is expressly about the quality of the argument. I will repeat it for you:
            “the defenses mounted by Intellectual Ventures and its representatives are in essence indistinguishable from those put forth by la cosa nostra. Except the latter are better at it.”
            You have transformed that statement into “By the way, people who support the current concept of property rights are just like the Mafia”

            Now, let’s discuss who is engaging in fallacious arguments here.Report

          • It’s not the ad hom fallacy, it’s essentially the reductio ad Nazium with the villain changed. The fallacy here is formally one of irrelevance and guilt by association.

            If we were to say that anyone culpable of such fallacies is either dishonest or an idiot and therefore should not be listened to, that would be ad hominem. But since one could conceivably employ such sophistic tricks and still be essentially correct, going ad hom in retort would be a fallacy too.Report

            • Plinko in reply to tom van dyke says:

              Look, I know it’s a whole hour and it’s those hippies at NPR, but if you’re not interested in listening to the piece and discussing it, why are you commenting on the post?
              It’s obvious that neither you or DD have actually listened to the program. If you had, you would most likely have heard the arguments and been able to address them instead of attacking those who nod in agreement with the post.Report

  5. St.John McCloskey says:

    There’s a wonderful free textbook at which makes a fantastic argument for the abolition of intellectual property law. I highly recommend reading through the first couple (maybe three) chapters. It doesn’t take long, it’s an easy read, and is absolutely brilliant!Report

  6. BSK says:

    To me, the issue is not the idea of patents but how the system is currently practiced.

    In order to pursue a patent lawsuit, the patent holder must:
    A.) Demonstrate a working prototype of the invention. Not just an idea on paper or a concept. Make the damn thing.
    B.) Demonstrate that the accused used specific, identifiable aspects of the patent that are unlikely to have been arrived at independently. So, if I invent a flying car, I can’t sue everyone else who attempts to make a car that leaves the ground. I CAN sue someone who uses specific aspects of my propulsion system if I can prove that they took that idea from me and did not arrive at it themselves. The burden of proof is on me.
    C.) Demonstrate damages. If I own a technology that I am unable to produce or am unable to produce in quantity to meet demand, than I am not damaged. I have maxed out my productivity.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to BSK says:

      So there’s no reason for anyone but a huge company with lots of resources to bother inventing anything, because you have to build a working copy and you don’t have patent protections until that working copy exists.

      I mean, if I don’t own my own factory then I can’t produce a working copy, and if I can’t produce a working copy then there’s no way to stop the factory I contract to produce the item from stealing the design and patenting it themselves. sic transit the small inventor.

      “Oh, but an NDA–” Ho, ho, ho. If you believe that an NDA is a bulletproof protection against infringement, then I’ll give you ten percent of the proceeds from “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”.Report

      • So there’s no reason for anyone but a huge company with lots of resources to bother inventing anything, because you have to build a working copy

        What world do you live in, and just where is the nexus that connects it to this one? Most patentable ideas do not require massive assets or a factory to make a working copy. Most are, in fact, quite small. The real cost is the R&D that lies behind most patentable ideas. If your patentable idea can be developed without massive R&D investment, making the prototype almost certainly is not a problem. If it does required massive R&D investment then whining about prototype costs is pretty pointless.

        I’m rather amazed at how tolerant the League is with you.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

          James, I’m sorry that your emotional response to imagined threads to your children makes it impossible for you to read the whole thread once you see my name.

          But if you read the post I was replying to you’d see that BSK said “In order to pursue a patent lawsuit, the patent holder must…[d]emonstrate a working prototype of the invention. Not just an idea on paper or a concept. Make the damn thing.”

          Meaning: If you need a factory to build one then you’d better have your own factory, because otherwise there’s nothing to stop the factory owner kicking out as many copies as he likes.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to BSK says:

      In software, at last, the problem is that patents are granted far too freely, often to things that are both obvious [1] and in common use beforehand. The result is that most software of any complexity is in violation of one or more patents for completely innocent reasons.

      1. Obvious here meaning “If you’re a reasonably clever and inventive person faced with this problem, this is how you’d solve it.”Report