More than patent trolls
Patent trolls get a lot of media coverage, but they're just one of many problems which arise from software patents, and they're not the biggest problem either.
Trolls vs. non-trolls
Trolls generally cause economic harm because they want companies with money to pay licence fees. They usually don't try to block progress since that doesn't directly make any money for them. What they're interested in is getting a percentage, so they want the patented idea to be used. The main problem they cause is that they make businesses less efficient and they sometimes block smaller businesses from operating in a market.
The bigger patent problem is from software companies that want to monopolise features and even whole domains of software development. They profit directly from blocking everyone else, so that's often what they do.
How non-trolls affect you
- When your computer says it can't play a certain audio/video format
- When some new software isn't compatible with your old software or with the software of the people you interact with
- When you can only find one, or a small number of software packages to do a particular task
- When you or your company is prevented from developing useful software
...it's usually because of a monopolist, not a troll.
Problems which would still exist without trolls
- All businesses are targets
- Blocking innovation and research
- Blocking useful freedoms
- Blocks competing software, reducing choice
- Breaks software distribution methods
- Controlling entire markets
- Costs are astronomically disproportionate for SMEs and individuals
- Costs of the patent system to governments
- Examples of use for sabotage
- Freedom of expression
- Harm to standards
- Harms to education
- Hindering competition, obstructing the free market
- Incompatible timespans
- Infringement is unavoidable
- Jobs and skills
- Publishing information is made dangerous
- Software patents harm SMEs
Why do trolls get so much attention?
The harm of trolls is exagerated for a few reasons.
- Some media sources measure harm by counting court cases and speculating on out of court settlements. Trolls want money, so court cases and public accusations are often part of their business model. Monopolists cause harm with neither litigation nor threats, which is harder to measure.
- The patent-owning software companies need a scapegoat whenever someone complains about software patents, so they deflect attention by shouting about patent trolls and make big announcements about their (costly) anti-troll projects (with little effect).
Related pages on ESP Wiki
Two examples that will be called trolls but are actually operated by groups of proprietary software companies:
- Harmfulness ranking of ways to use software patents, 3 June 2010, Florian Mueller
- Fixing America's Patent Problem Means Going Beyond Trolls, 4 June 2013, Business Week