In The Hobbit, the trolls that want to eat Bilbo and company are defeated when the first rays of dawn turn them to stone. Now, there is an organization that hopes to defeat a different group of trolls – patent trolls – by bringing the harsh light of day to the problem.
An association of retail trade organizations has created a new vehicle to bring awareness to the problem of non-practicing entities, companies that own patents but produce nothing. StopBadPatents.com is the face of the organization that hopes to fight these so-called “patent trolls” that make money by charging licensing fees on the patents they own, often using bullying tactics to get money from small businesses.
The organization has launched a series of print ads depicting a giant, warty gray monster stomping on small businesses and a radio spot that gives a dark, creepy voice to the bullying troll. Among the groups behind this ad campaign are the Food Marketing Institute, the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association, indicating that concern over patent trolls has moved beyond the software and technology space.
This push for awareness in the private sector matches government efforts to address patent trolls head on. Last month, the Attorney General of Minnesota, Lori Swanson, announced that the state will impose civil penalties on a company, MPHJ Technology Investments, that has been attempting to collect payments for patents on document scanning technology.
Not all industry experts are comfortable with the term “patent troll,” however. Alec Schibaniff, vice president of marketing at the General Patent Corporation, feels that the term has the ring of propaganda to it. "'Patent troll’ is a term created by the large high-tech corporations that are the most frequent infringers of patents, and the term is designed to diminish the status of inventors, universities and others who do not have large factories in which they produce products that use their patents” Schibanoff stated. These corporate Goliaths are attempting to create two classes of patentees, the David's that simply invent and then license their patents from the Goliaths that invent and ‘practice’ their patents. A patent is an absolute right, like property rights, that do not differ from one landowner to another or from one patentee to another.'”
But the organizations behind this new campaign disagree, believing that patent trolls are adversely impacting businesses that are then passing costs down to consumers. The ads ask people to call or write to government representatives to spur on federal legislation to combat trolls. Congressmen on both sides of the aisle seem poised to address this topic, so in the near future we might see a law that will shine the light on these trolls, freezing them in place. In the meantime, businesses need to be on guard to make sure they are not eaten alive.