Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
A 32-year-old state senator is trying to get patent trolls out of Massachusetts (techcrunch.com)
276 points by jessiemcr 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

I'm always amused at the Silicon Valley attitude towards "patent trolls". Figuring out some way to make people slave for below minimum wage - fine. Obtaining a monopoly and then raising prices - fine. Using a monopoly in one area, such as an app store, to keep out competitors for your own products - fine. Shipping crap that doesn't work - fine. But enforcing patent rights - that's bad.

Wow. Straw man galore.

Edit: feel like I should expand one this.

None of the opinions you mentioned are consistent across HN, nor are they supported by all of the same people. Not even a majority of HNers support most of those opinions. In fact, I think the only one of those that HNers do tend to support in majority is "But enforcing patent rights - that's bad."

I don't think even the majority of agree that enforcing patents is wholly bad. It's a bit more nuanced than that. Some of my personal problems with patent enforcement of the top of my head: (1) it often isn't encouraging creators to keep creating (the patents being enforced have been sold or assigned away from the individual) (2) patents are being used as a stock pile for insurance against other companies suing them (3) non-practicing entities (patent trolls) are generally the ones bringing law suits (4) many patents we hear about appear low quality (obvious, prior art, do it on a computer/network, etc.)

After seeing issues like the above over and over again it feels like the system isn't working to do what it should. I'd love to see patent enforcement to help fund the work of inventors and push the overall state-of-the-art forward, but it really feels like that's not what's happening right now.

All of the "problems" you state are valid, but targeting patent enforcement to fix the problem is like trying to stiffle a food poisoning epidemic by changing the way people eat instead of fixing the source of the problem which is in the food prep.

Patent trolls are succesful because of the millions of worthless patents issued (i.e. scope that actually does overlap prior art, such that people think they have broader protection than they actually have). The other reason is that people are filing patents (and getting them granted) based on concepts that seem viable in principle, but which they haven't actually distilled to practice (ahem - Magic Leap).

All of these issues can be greatly mitigated by reinstituting (1) the rule for inventors to actually demonstrate the technology they're patenting to the USPTO.

1. https://www.uspto.gov/custom-page/inventors-eye-what-are-cur...

You're equating HN and Silicon Valley there, and I'm not sure that's right. I also don't think the "Silicon Valley attitude" is the opinion of every person who lives in the area, just those who run it.

For all the complaints we see on HN about, say, Uber, it's still very much on top in SV and held up as a huge success story and model for other companies.

For the record, I think the OP was being hyperbolic. But there is an element of truth: Silicon Valley (rightly) criticises the things that hold it back, but is largely quite happy to stay silent about things it takes advantage of.

> enforcing patent rights

Software on patents were not a thing to begin with, if you were around 20-30 years ago. It's a recent invention. So yeah, it's totally worth challenging, especially the super broad patents used by patent trolls.

Correct and one of the key causes is an understaffed and under trained USPTO staff. Even if you could train them to understand the (constantly changing) state of the art in ML learning, it could take years to truly determine if there was prior art or not.

I still think the way to solve the patent issue for software is that you make it's time limited to 5 years and make them non transferrable. Unlike patents on physical things, it is much easier to make something similiar that just works around a single one of the claims. Another thing we probably need is that any patent dispute that goes to court requires a prior art check and "novel" reassessment and if it is found that the patent was never novel or prior art existed, then the patent is thrown out. This could be done as part of the USPTO office instead of the courts as a precursor to actual trial.

Sure it was. I held software patents 30 years ago. The first software patent was for SyncSort (1971), the first large sort algorithm to beat O(N log N).

The funding to fight against patent trolls isn't based on morality, it's based on profitability.

It happens to be the case that patent trolls are also immoral, but don't let that confuse you.

Patent trolls are extreme actors in the patent system. The spirit of patent laws is that it rewards & protect innovation. However the letter of patent law is open to interpretation and unfortunately, abuse. A patent troll, doesn't invent, invest or build. It spends all it's time attempting tot retroactively claim ownership of innovation, through acquisition of junk patents, building portfolios of them and using them to, effectively, extort companies.

The topic at hand isn't the general idea of 'patent rights': it's the specific case of patent trolls. Even if the things you mention were all really accepted and supported by HN/SV, I would still claim that patent trolls are a more clearly negative, less defensible, phenomenon.

I don't think anyone is actually against enforcing patent rights. The problem is so many patents involve obvious ways of doing things.

The explanation is that might is right and Silicon Valley has power.

This can only be good for Mass tech and tech companies in general. One can only hope more politicians wise up to the negative externalities of patent trolls. That and opposition to anti-compete clauses are what politicians should to attract talent to their regional economies.

The proposed law is useless. Other states have similar laws -- they are useless.

The problem is that they rely on infringement claims being made in "bad faith." Patent trolls never make claims that would trigger these bad faith conditions.

Or, if they had made qualifying "bad faith" claims in the past, it is trivial to update their demand letters to avoid triggering the bad faith clauses in these bills or laws.

I think the laws are also useless because they require that claims be filed in Massachusetts.

The article mentions cloudflare a bunch, but they are based out of California. I don't even know of them being sued by a patent troll in Massachusetts.

Can a state even regulate legal claims made regarding federal laws? It seems that this would be stepping on the federal government's exclusive authority over patent law.

Now tell <strike>East Texas</strike>Delaware that...

Edit: honestly, the idea of having the software patents disgrace/mess untangled seems hopeless by now. I can't even begin to imagine what kind of seismic event it would take to pull that off. :/

There's so much more money involved now (in all kinds of places - now we have massive passive collections both in old- and new-style companies) than last time there was a huge fight surrounding software patents.

Sure, each US state and each EU country can work towards making things harder for patent trolls, but how much will that help in most cases where products are global and the patent troll can pick their venue at their leisure.

tldr: Delaware is the new location.

I like the irony.

I've always disliked that companies can incorporate out of state to "shop" for favorable laws. Good to know there's at least one downside.

I feel like CA has been for awhile an "almost acceptable" place to incorporate for startups. Maybe this will finally push it over the edge. Unseating Delaware would be good in the long term. They have taken advantage of their position in a number of ways. Like charging relatively unique corporate taxes (eg. a tax assessed on # of shares).

How dare he? They're just trying to atone for their sins.

I clicked to the comments to pun "let's take the mass out of patent trolls." well done, friend.

" You hear about the three or four kids in a dorm room who are tinkering around with an idea, then suddenly, they get slammed with one of these completely vague cease-and-desist letters from a place they’ve never heard of, citing patents they didn’t know existed. The threat is: turn over everything you’re doing to us, or pay us $30,000."

Has this ever happened? I don't think so.

Also, it would be nice if the interview included a peppercorn of information about the bills.

WA state has a new anti-patent troll law. It is useless.

edit: link to the bill sponsored by Eric Lesser https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/S128

edit2: after scanning the bill, it looks like every "mainstream" patent troll would be able to continue to operate without making any changes to their practice. Only the most incompetent lawyers have any chance of triggering the "bad faith" element in this law. (Same as WA state anti-patent troll law.)

Anecdotal but this has happened in a startup I was in called artwork evolution. We were hit with a lawsuit that asked us to fork over for adding a link to the App Store requesting a review. We ignored them and ended up disbanding before they brought us to court, but the letters were real and they were very scary.

Yes! In 2014 our fintech startup received a cease-and-desist from some London lawyers representing Dealogic. Bogus claims just trying to scare us so our Houston lawyer sent them verbal napalm and warned them against messing with a Texas company and we never heard another peep out of them again.

>Has this ever happened?


> I don't think so.

That doesn't make it any less true. What you think and feel have little to do with real facts.

Yes. Revostock, a small business that simply sold After Effects templates by independent artists was shut down by a patent troll:


Yes it does happen. Small startup gets a shakedown when they get into incumbent player market. Been there. Not always but it can be game ending. Not commenting on the quoted anecdote, just my experience and word of mouth from others.

It happens for trademarks too.

Well, yes, but you can change your name and usually avoid having to pay up a large sum.

Three or four guys tinkering in a dorm room? Is what the brilliant Harvard educated young(est) congressman said.

Early stage startups can run into trouble from trolls but if they do not have any money.... Unless the troll files a complaint and actually initiates a lawsuit, the scary letters should be ignored.

Though I do think startup GC's should learn how to handle the initial phases of a patent infringement lawsuit. It isn't that hard -- then it would force the trolls to spin up an expensive full-stack lawsuit if they want to keep going. This is expensive and risky for trolls.

> Has this ever happened? I don't think so.

Sure it does. I've had it happen to two of my ventures. Anecdote is not the singular of data, but I can't imagine it is rare.

That has happened to a lot of small time app developers.

Pardon my ignorance, but if these firms are buying up patents, aren't they paying fairly and squarely for IP assets? Whether or not they produced the IP, how does that factor into whether or not they are "bad actors" in commercial exchange?

The problem is they are 'buying worthless patents'. Then trying to get people to pay not because of the patent, but because the US court system is so expensive.

One of the problems is the patent office may grant an extremely narrow patent, but the courts just might interpret it broadly. However, the shell company suing you has no assets to recover over a bogus suit. So, taking them to court has zero upside, costs money, and has a tiny chance of costing a lot of money. Thus troll.

IMHO the patents are usually not narrow, but overly broad, and they should not have been registered in the first place.

From a legal point of view you are completely right.

Personally I find the whole idea of IP to be a little too strict. It is possible for me to come up with an idea completely independently and still get sued because someone got the same idea and decided to make it his IP.

Some big tech companies have the same strategy as patent trolls, and for some reason this is a much more widely accepted practice.

How could this change to patent law work? Wouldn't everyone who wants to use a patent without paying just lie and claim that they came up with it independently? How would a court find out the truth?

The title seems abbreviated for no apparent reason.

What can they really do at the state level? I believe patents are a federal issue. I'm not sure what a state law can do about a patent troll trying to enforce "their" federally granted patent rights.

What a garbage heap of an article. There is not even a single sentence giving a summary of what the bill would do.

I guess when you hit 2 to the 5th power you want to make big changes in the world :)

Well that may be. But, this bill isn't it. It is almost a copy of other ineffective laws in place in other states.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact