Patent Trolls

Patent Trolls only exist due to questionable ethical practices.  “Called patent trolls or non-practising entities (NPE), companies that make most of their money from licensing patents don’t have the best reputation.” (Business Insider)  The problem with patent trolls is that what they do is technically not illegal.  enforcing and licensing ideas is not against the law.  But the manner in which the companies enforce the law is detrimental to consumers and possibly market competition (Business insider).  If information and technology can be withheld from the public market indefinitely then some innovations will never enter the public domain and never be able to foster more innovation.

Judging by the utilitarianism approach I can say that patent trolls are very unethical because especially in this age of technology building on itself continually if a few key patents are kept from being licensed then a few companies may have a technopoly.  This is bad for everyone who isn’t a stakeholder in the company because it hinders competition and can create a monopoly in certain markets.  The largest patent troll, Intellectual Ventures has between 10,000 and 70,000 patents it licenses (Business Insider).  Such consolidation does the least good for the least number of people forcing billions of people to utilize one company’s technology.

As Vaidhyanathan said in his essay, “Digital distribution allows a higher level of regulation than we ever imagined. Soon we may have to apply for a license to listen or read…”( 182).  The greatest innovation of modern times, digital distribution of information is being perverted to become the greatest oppressor of knowledge.  This is not ethical, restricting information to everyone based on the greed of a few businessmen.

The problem with this phenomenon is that it happens because the laws allow it to.  The white papers the white house published under the Clinton administration gave more powers to corporations and took power away from the inventor and federal government.  Examining databases, all technology is suppose to enter the public domain after some amount of time to foster innovation, but with databases every time more information is added the patent is renewed because it counts as a new addition making the creation unique (Vaidhyanathan 175-176).  This stifles growth because as more knowledge is added it actually keeps the information from entering the public domain and since human knowledge continues to increase the database will remain under copyright forever.  This question that needs to be answered here is how can the system be changed?  I think it will only be changed once there is a clear and evident damage done to someone or the populace as a whole, possibly the cure for cancer getting stored away in a database as a trade secret.  I think the general population will only find out about such a damage through a whistle-blower.  Corporations are exceptional at covering things up so I think it will take an inside employee who has ethical fortitude to do the right thing in the face of serious consequences to cause any change.  And only after social outcry will the government do anything about it but since the law has been changed to make the government less powerful at effecting copyright and patent law I am afraid for the future of the patent industry.

Vaidhyanathan, Siva. Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity. New York: New York UP, 2001. Print.

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