All patent and no product

I have long disagreed with software patents. Their implementation has led to a situation whereby everyone is suing everyone else over trivial inventions, stifling innovation and creating a situation in which only companies with a large legal team are able to enter any given market.

That said, I have also been swayed by the argument that software is different in that it is defined purely in terms of the logic, unlike more traditional patents that require the inventor to actualy invent something. with than in mind I have tended to feel that, while software patents are broken and counter-productive, patents for real products do have utility. (That’s not to say that the patent system is perfect, merely that it’s not fundamentally broken.)

Then I see an article like this one (via) and I start to think that maybe we should just chuck the whole corrupted mess away.

But Widdowson is a specialist. He’s one of 10 reverse-engineers working full time for a stealthy company funded by some of the biggest names in technology: Apple, Microsoft, Research In Motion, Sony, and Ericsson. Called the Rockstar Consortium, the 32-person outfit has a single-minded mission: It examines successful products, like routers and smartphones, and it tries to find proof that these products infringe on a portfolio of over 4,000 technology patents once owned by one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies.

When a Rockstar engineer uncovers evidence of infringement, the company documents it, contacts the manufacturer, and demands licensing fees for the patents in question. The demand is backed by the implicit threat of a patent lawsuit in federal court. Eight of the company’s staff are lawyers. In the last two months, Rockstar has started negotiations with as many as 100 potential licensees. And with control of a patent portfolio covering core wireless communications technologies such as LTE (Long Term Evolution) and 3G, there is literally no end in sight.

And that’s it. This is a company that has no products, provides no services and exists soley to seek excuses to sue people. The Rockstar Consortium is an economic parasite and a patent system that allows it to exists is fundamentally broken.

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