Apple, Google, Samsung Push for Patent Troll Reform in EU

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Sometimes-rivals Apple, Google and Samsung have banded together in Europe in hopes of bringing patent trolls and their abuse of the court system under control. 19 companies have signed a letter asking the European Union to take action to limit the ability of companies that hold patents as their sole source of income from using the legal system to essentially extort money out of other businesses.

Tech companies ask EU to curb patent troll powersTech companies ask EU to curb patent troll powers

The companies are asking the EU to create guidance for the member state's courts so they're prepared to know when injunctions are appropriate, and how to better determine a patent's validity. "Without this guidance, the potential exists for a court to order an injunction prohibiting the importation and sale of goods even though the patent may ultimately be found invalid," the companies said in their letter, according to Bloomberg.

Patent trolls are companies that collect patents so they can then use their portfolios to generate revenue. They typically demand money from companies over patent infringement claims and often file lawsuits in hopes of pressuring a payout.

Apple is involved in a series of mobile device patent infringement lawsuits against Samsung, and is indirectly targeting Google's Android OS in the process. Despite the court room friction between the companies, they all see the value in finding a way to cut down on the frivolous lawsuits patent trolls file.

Currently, there isn't much to stop patent trolls from filing lawsuits to pressure licensing payouts on questionable patents. The cases not only bog down court dockets, but also cost companies millions of dollars regardless of whether or not they actually end up in front of a judge.

The EU is looking into creating a patent-specific court as part of a move to a unified patent system for all the member states, which should make it easier to manage patent cases across borders. Assuming Apple, Samsung, Google and the other companies pushing for changes get what they want, the EU patent system will likely make it easier to identify companies abusing the system and cut down on the threat of injunctions issued for patents that are ultimately deemed invalid.

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Comments

MacFrogger

So someone correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the Rockstar Consortium - which includes Apple - basically fit this description?  Its the package of Nortel patents that was purchased with billions of $$ of Apple and Microsoft that is currently suing several other companies.  I don’t think Rockstar makes anything…

ibuck

If Macfrogger is implying that patent restrictions need to take into account different scenarios and complications, rather than a blanket law excluding all those “that hold patents as their sole source of income,” then I agree.

If someone devised a clever method of doing something (not obvious) and was able to retire on their royalty income, shouldn’t they be allowed to continue to benefit from their invention?

If an entity acquires patents to continue to produce products or services, or improve them, shouldn’t they be allowed to benefit from their continuing sales of those products / services?

MacFrogger

Hi ibuck.  There’s a few points I’m raising here, all related to the issue described in the post.  First, and most obvious, would Rockstar fit the legal description of “troll” that Apple and the others are pushing the EU to adopt?

In a more general sense, should there be auctions of patents originating from bankrupt companies?  Or should these go into the public domain, become “standards-essential”, or be treated as a sellable asset to the highest bidder to use in whatever way they fit? (e.g. Rockstar)  I think most people would agree that they are an asset of the company, and hence are sellable in bankruptcy, but then we’re back to square 1: how is Rockstar not a troll?

ibuck

MacFrogger: how is Rockstar not a troll?

Possibly because the members are making products/services that use the patents, and are not deriving income solely from them? 

I think I understand your point. “Patent trolls,” as I view them, do not produce anything but legal trouble.  In the case of Rockstar, aren’t the patents benefitting the public by their use in the partners’ wares?  Doesn’t that distinguish Rockstar from the trolls?

MacFrogger

I’m not sure ibuck.  The law is a complicated beast, and even one word can completely change the meaning of anything intended by the author of the bill (or law), because its subject to the interpretation of the judges.  Such is our legal system, and the EU one as well.  The interpreters of the law as written (judges) are not the ones who write and pass the laws ( the legislators, even if well-intentioned).

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