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The Problem With Patents: Operating with Blunt Instruments

The Standards Blog - Andy Updegrove - Yesterday, the Obama administration announced a new effort to curb baseless patent lawsuits, which it believes are stifling innovation and economic activity.  The new initiative would take five actions under the President’s Executive authority, and also makes seven legislative recommendations intended, “to protect innovators from frivolous litigation and ensure the highest-quality patents in our system.”

As anyone who watches technology even casually will be aware, the assertion of patents has played a dominating role in the mobile sector of late. It’s not often that a new platform takes over, and as a result, both the stakes as well as the opportunity to unseat incumbents is high. In such a situation, the dominant players have an incentive to pull out all the stops, and indeed they have. The resulting suits have been particularly troublesome where infringement is unavoidable, as is the case with so-called “standards essential patents.”

But the high level head bashing between technology leviathans like Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft has partially obscured a more troubling and ongoing crisis in the technology sector, which is the misuse of patents by companies referred to as “non-practicing entities” (NPEs), “Patent Assertion Entities” (PAEs), or simply as “trolls.”