Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A tale of trolls and false clouds

PatLit has never been particularly happy about the use of the term 'patent troll' to describe a patent proprietor who, while not manufacturing anything himself, seeks to enforce a patent by collecting a rent for its use by others, backed by the threat of injunctive relief to prevent the non-payer continuing to manufacture. The term 'patent troll' is imprecise, judgmental and, in its widest form, broad enough to include such worthy enterprises as university research institutions and their commercialisation offices. Perhaps for this reason the expression, despite its power as a vivid metaphor, has been decreasingly used -- at least on my side of the Atlantic -- and appears to be yielding on both sides of the Pond to the curious terminology 'non-practising entity' or 'NPE'

Proof that 'patent troll' has assumed a Pythonesque dimension of silliness may be found in the recent news (reported here on but also in many places elsewhere) that Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff has bestowed the title 'patent troll' on software giant Microsoft. Says the article,
"Last week, Microsoft sued, alleging that the company infringed nine of its patents. The suit -- a rare example of Microsoft using the courts to defend its patent portfolio -- covers several broad patents, including one for a system used to display a Web page with embedded menus. Another patent covered by the suit covers a method for stacking toolbars in a computer display.

... [ chairman and CEO Marc] Benioff declined to comment on specifics of the suit, but reiterated his description of Microsoft as a patent troll.

"Patent trolls are part of the industry today, that's just the way it is. We've dealt with them before and we'll deal with this situation in the same exact way," Benioff said, noting that the Microsoft lawsuit would have no material impact on the company.

... Benioff repeatedly mocked Microsoft, describing the company's products as old technology that's out of sync with the emergence of cloud computing, a catch-all term used to describe IT infrastructure and applications delivered as a service over the Internet. ... earlier ... Benioff questioned Microsoft's recent release of a new version of its Office productivity suite, which includes a free Web version. The Web version of Office 2010 is Microsoft's attempt to add cloud-computing capabilities to its productivity suite, but Benioff said it falls short.

"It's a false cloud," he said".


Gerry Gavigan said...

I'm not sure that those who use the term "patent troll" use it the way that you suggest. Wikipedia offers a much closer definition to my understanding of the term

"Patent troll is a pejorative term used for a person or company that enforces its patents against one or more alleged infringers in a manner considered unduly aggressive or opportunistic, often with no intention to manufacture or
market the patented invention."

The key phrase being "in a manner considered unduly aggressive or
opportunistic" (which of course is a matter of perspective).

This definition would more easily explain the use of the term by the CEO of Salesforce (though I doubt if he cares what I think).

Anonymous said...

Actually, the connotation of 'patent troll' that has always been at the top of my mind is 'Jack-in-a-box", because of the surprise and shock when the box opens. This connotation is probably carried by the corresponding Danish expression for the same amusement, which is 'troll-in-a-box'.

It is hence the unexpectedness that is indicated by the term.

Kind regards,

George Brock-Nannestad