Tag Archives: Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF’s narrow position on university tech transfer is “wildly misguided”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is attempting to paint a scarlet letter on universities with public funding who benefit from sharing discoveries with those best-equipped to monetize them.

The organization’s suggested sanctions for those schools that out-license research has been described as “preposterous,” and its condemnation of licensing specialists “wildly misguided.”

This is according to Richard Epstein, a highly respected professor of Law at NYU, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, in a recent Forbes piece.

Epstein say that the EFF equates all non-practicing entities (NPEs) with so-called patent “trolls” looking to game the system. In fact, a relatively small percentage of NPE suits are filed by those “black hat” businesses with a18063d135cfa169c2f96cce4d167ccdquestionable patents seeking a nuisance settlement.

Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published an extraordinary request to research universities as part of its “Reclaim Invention” campaign: please stop putting your patents into the hands of insidious patent trolls.

EFF, writes Epstein, seeks to put teeth in its proposals by asking state legislatures to enact statutes “to bar state-funded universities from transferring patents to patent-assertion entities, broadly defined and branded as trolls”.  It proposes that these transfers be null and void if they do not meet statutory criteria, and suggest that the universities in question be punished by a forfeiture of research funding and student financial assistance.

In the eyes of the EFF, universities should exercise a higher sense of social responsibility and only sell or license their patents to those companies that “will actually do something with them.”  In its view, universities should resist the temptation to license their patents to the highest bidder. Really?

Its manifesto linking patents and NPEs with important research that is less likely to be shared for the logo_fullbenefit of the community can be found here. EFF sees patents and those who choose to share them through licensing as roadblocks, not bridges.

Blunt Condemnation

Epstein is blunt in his condemnation of the EFF’s proposal: “The first error lies in EFF’s over broad claim that equates NPEs with patent trolls; the second error is to assume that universities have some particular expertise in licensing these patents to potential end users; and the third in its wholesale condemnation of patent enforcement through litigation.”

The Forbes piece can be found here; the EFF “reclaim invention” proposal here. Both are worth reading.

The path of innovation is complex. A short-sighted position regarding who should benefit most from public research funding is self-deafting.

Image source: forbes.com; eff.org

When NPR Attacks Patents: Stories are Long on Drama, Short on Truth

“When Patents Attack… Part II!” revisits old ground about bad IP actors by relying on half-truths and high drama.

“This American Life,” an entertaining weekly NPR news feature, cannot resist using ill-defined “trolls” as a basis to attack the patent system. A more accurate title might be “This American Knife: When Public Radio Attacks Patents!”

Back in July of 2011 “This American Life” (TAL) spent an hour vilifying patent holders who do not practice their inventions, and attempting to convince listeners that they had uncovered a third-party IP monetization scheme that is destroying innovation. The story was largely focused on Intellectual Ventures, the largest patent buyer. “When Patents Attack!” relies on half-truths, questionable sources and a lot theatrics, which makes for good radio, but shoddy journalism.

On May 31 TAL broadcasted When Patents Attack…, Part Two! This time around, the host, Ira Glass, said, TAL’s reporters were urged on by the logo-v5challenge to complete the difficult investigation they had begun two years earlier. Sadly, this piece is should be required listening, like the previous one, especially for those who want to better understand how patent misinformation gets spread around.

The dramatic conclusion to Laura and Alex’s search for information about Intellectual Ventures, and the inventor they claimed they were helping, Chris Crawford. The story turns out to be different from the one Intellectual Ventures originally told.

Separating the Real Story from the Drama

I would rather not go toe-to-toe refuting each claim in the story. However, I will say that presenting facts and partial-facts with insufficient context is extremely damaging to establishing the truth about the real story: patent theft in the U.S.

If you cannot listen to the entire broadcast, please at least catch to the last five minutes. At approximately 50:30 (you can use the play bar to go right there) there is a statement delivered at the Electronic Frontier Foundation meeting in San Francisco by a young medical device inventor who is moved to tears, literally, because he believes that the big bad trolls are inevitably going to destroy his hard work establishing a potentially life-saving invention.

The young inventor explains how he looked up some patents in the heart device area he was working in, saw how many inventions there are and how broadly they are defined and precisely their claims are worded, and determined that he was doomed from the start. Since he believed that he had no chance he refused to develop his brilliant idea and allowed his hard work to be taken away [presumably by trolls, as opposed to medical device manufacturers].

“When Patent Attack…, Part Two!” may be more scurrilous and insulting than Part One. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, while far from perfect, has done a generally good job of identifying and codifying inventions. Due to the USPTO’s lack of resources, in relatively rare instances given the millions of issued patents, it is sometimes necessary for the courts to decide what is novel and unobvious, who is an infringer, and how much must be paid in damages. This system may be inefficient, and benefit some businesses more than others, but it is generally fair, even if the enforcer is not practicing an invention or selling products.

Occasionally, it is necessary for the courts to determine what is valid or infringed, but typically it is left to posterity to determine what is “truly” innovative. This TAL story implies that innovation can be readily identified and classified, belittling those inventions that do not fit its definition.

“Too Many” Patents

The patent attorney introduced in Part Two who claims that there are “too many patents” confuses the issue. (Are there too many parcels or real estate? Perhaps he means that they are too easily granted?) Who is in the position to judge that the owner of an invention that meets the appropriate tests of patentability should not receive one because it lacks sufficient meaning? “When Patents Attack, Parts I and II” plays directly into the hands of businesses that would benefit from a weaker patent system with fewer patents that can potentially be used to undermine their leadership. The exclusivity afforded to patents can provide inventors, SMEs, and in some cases investors, the leverage to challenge traditions and provide the kind of positive destruction that stimulates competition and creates jobs. Heck, Apple, Microsoft, Disney, Google, H-P, Xerox and Amazon all were founded in garages or dorm rooms. America needs to encourage other companies to follow in their footsteps.

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“When Patents Attack, Parts I and II” does little to enlighten listeners about how the patent system really works. It does, however, make it easier for companies to justify practicing others’ inventions, while laughing all the way to the bank. God bless (this) American life.

Image source: thisamericanlife.org


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