In that sense, this move is the pinnacle of the best form of advertising. Whether they are acting out of pure altruism or pure strategy (it's probably both), they are demonstrating their values with non-trivial risks and resources, thereby earning genuine trust with current and prospective customers. Awesome.
Some species of antelope, when pursued by a predator, will suddenly leap high into the air, jumping from all four feet at once. This is called stotting, and the best theory for why they do it is to signal to the predator: 'look, I can afford to waste energy doing this while you're chasing me; better focus on something a bit slower and weaker'.
"A chance to see springbok antelopes, the most successful grazing animals in the Southern African Kalahari desert as they attempt to ward off a family of hungry cheetahs by jumping up to two metres into the air. "
But yes, other explanations have been proposed. There's a list on Wikipedia if you look up Stotting.
Put bluntly, a lot of old farts are going to have to retire and/or die before we come to our senses and stop granting monopolies on ideas.
It's also interesting that, in my nearly 20 years in the industry, I've never met anybody who actively bragged about their patents. I think there might be a little agism coming through in your comment...
I've also worked for a large telecom that had each and every patent granted at each office up on the wall so that you could see it as you walked in.
There's nothing wrong with invention and although it would be a great world if we were all altruistic and willing to share these ideas with one another for free, it's not that wrong to believe that inventors should be rewarded for their efforts. Unfortunately the current system is broken, and needs fixing.
I don't disagree with that in general but I will raise the issue that you would need to know the percentage of current and future customers that really care about things like this to know the effect that it will have on their business in dollars.
Consumers and business are fickle. Good will has a value but people will drop you in a dime if the next shiny ball comes along with a better product and/or lower pricing. My guess is that the community that cares about this relative to their sales volume is not as significant as your statement suggests.
As an similar example, people on HN regularly hate on godaddy but they are still a giant in the domain business and end users that use them (I deal with those end users since gd is a competitor of ours) don't care about any of the shenanigans. And the "tech guys" that feed business to gd in general seem to be pretty happy with the relationship judging by transfer rates.
All things being equal, we all want to do good with our time and support organizations that do good.
Now, as a lean startup we probably shouldn't have been looking for an expensive domain name in the first place. But ineffective squatter rules (10K for an arbitration!) are preventing the marketplace from making the most of attractive, catchy domain names, and instead we're settling on domains that do not adequately describe the business.
Further you are saying that someone who holds a domain name (or any property) should have to satisfy a requirement of "use" of that property or domain name? And if not they should sell it to you for a price that you find acceptable or maybe just give it to you?
If that is the case then please tell me who will be in charge of determining what "use" of a domain name is?
What do you define as a squatter? Because it's not someone who registers a domain name and just holds it although that is the popular culture interpretation of the word.
By the way there is no such thing as "arbitration" with domain names. There is the filing of a UDRP (which costs much much less and you can file on your own) but to do that you would have to have some basis. I can assure you that if you have just formed a startup you don't meet the requirements for filing a UDRP. It isn't meant to protect people who "just want a particular domain and the seller isn't being reasonable" it's meant to protect those with true intellectual property interests (from what I'm reading in your comment you don't meet this in any way).
And the solution should be the same. You can't sell a trademark. What you can do is sell the goodwill it has accrued and transfer the mark along with it. That sounds like the same thing, right? But if you haven't used it there is no goodwill -- in fact, if you stop using a trademark then you eventually lose the rights to it. It shuts down the squatters but not anyone else, which is why we don't have trademark squatters the same as we do domain name squatters.
Admittedly, no-one is clamoring for these domain names, let alone offering me $7500 for them for their business, but just because you can't see the use doesn't mean that they're not being used.
Yes, domain name squatters suck, but they're making money, so they'll keep doing it, and there's no way to fairly stop them that doesn't take away my right to hold stupid domain names.
That customers think this is a good thing and burnishes Rackspace's reputation for being on the side of developers, etc. is a nice bonus.
"Then they pop up and say, "Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!" Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng
Clearly the patent system is defective and needs to be fixed radically (or patents entirely eliminated in the software space, which I personally believe is preferable).
Nevertheless the above suggests a possibility for a shorter-term fix. If companies could proactively band together in some kind of association to fund IPRs for every single troll attack, spreading out the costs of the IPR amongst the member companies, it would seem that this would make life for the trolls much harder. Indeed, simply listing your company membership in such an association on your website might be sufficient to ward them off, same as sticking alarm decals on car windows wards off many would-be car thieves.
Here's what really happens:
PatentHoldingShellCompany60852, Inc. files a lawsuit. They have no products and no services and so cannot be countersued for any conceivable infringement. Even if you do manage to sue them successfully, the company's only asset is the patent. It declares bankruptcy, nobody involved in setting it up gets hurt, and tomorrow PatentHoldingShellCompany60853, Inc. is filing in East Texas to try to shakedown somebody else.
A well-funded, well-known legal team could have an easier time doing filing to consolidate cases, making the strategy of repeatedly going after small companies less one-sided.
Now this is really a great quote from that article!
(Question, not a statement to which I know the answer.)
Not true there is also collusion to consider, price setting, dividing markets etc. For example web hosting companies can't band together to set pricing or to determine certain things as a group. (Obv. companies get together to set standards etc and other things).
I'm just raising the issue but I know this from back at the beginning of ICANN registrars we had to be concerned with what we did and what we said to each other when we had group meetings on the advice of attorneys in our registrars constituency. And I'm not saying that the lawyers weren't over reaching or that particular behaviors had merit I'm merely mentioning it as a point of discussion and consideration.
The new patent legislation is very recent, and patent trolls are still operating under the older model. I think it's worth seeing whether and how this fix operates.
"Newegg Crushes Patent Troll in Online 'Shopping Cart' Suit"
edit: better article link:
By spending more resources to not only defend themselves, but also destroy the weapon that the patent troll is using, Rackspace is advertising that not only do other trolls risk spending money in court, but they also risk the invalidation of their patents. Anyone trolling is unlikely to want to risk that.
The psychology/poli-sci experts have agreed on "don't negotiate terrorists" for a reason, and I think that attitude applies perfectly in this patent troll situation.
(Noting also that there is the PR value of spending money this way as your comment proves!)
But they chose a higher road.
Obviously, I expect Rackspace to pursue its own business self-interest, but often there are multiple ways to do that, and not all of them are win-win for both the hosting company and for its customers.
As an independent Android developer, I live with the slight fear that one day I'm going to eventually be hit with one of these absurd patent lawsuits. I only program for Android as a hobby aside from my day job as a web programmer. What can an independent/hobbyist developer like myself do when we are eventually challenged with something we can by no means defend ourselves against without loads of money? Reform is needed, soon.
"You need to know that the average patent troll defense costs $2M and takes 18 months... when you win."
Drew Curtis: How I Beat a Patent Troll
Lawyers cost a lot of money, but for something like "the ability to rotate a mobile screen" that rackspace is fighting you don't need a lawyer.
Prior art exists for rotating screens on desktops and tablet PCs. Feature parity on Mobile is not innovative. Obviousness is the challenge to a patent and the defense against its infringement.
This is not a "risky" case. It is not a case that requires 4 lawyers for a year. It is a case for 1 guy part time for a year. Which if he is $400k a year could be $75k but it doesn't need to be that.
I applaud Rackspace for this act of charity to the community, but it should not be necessary. Let's root for Rackspace, but it's more important to fix the system.
Screen rotation is no invention. It's an idea; once you have it, it's trivial to implement. That, IMO, does not afford patent protection. However, certain things can, and should be patents. RSA, for example. It's a non-trivial procedure that was non-trivial to invent and there are not very many alternatives.
For instance, determining the optimum layout of a mail application for a four inch screen probably takes a lot of tweaking and user testing. But there's no way that you can call it an invention, and your competitors are free to copy the layout, so long as they change the style enough that customers can clearly distinguish the products.
On the other hand, using a magnet to hold a power connector to a laptop seems like a really obvious idea once you've seen it. You don't have to study detailed documents to see how you could make it. But calling it an 'invention' seems reasonable - and it is patented. And it's perhaps the only thing that attracts me about Apple laptops, but that's not important right now.
That may have merited a patent (if it wasn't already invented, and I suspect it was), but Apple's implementation does not.
I get that it's difficult to incentivize the development of truly difficult abstract ideas, but mathematicians and physicists have been doing exactly that for centuries and they appear to be doing alright.
So I was an aerospace engineering major in undergrad. For my professors, financial support came from: 1) government; 2) tuition and fees from students looking to get jobs at Lockheed, Honeywell, Raytheon, etc.
The former is mostly subsidized by the military, while the latter is subsidized directly and indirectly by companies who definitely do leverage patents and trade secrets laws to monetize their developments.
So its a "pick your poison" situation.
However, some innovations, maybe 1 in 1000, are really worthy. And if the inventor did not have some way to protect their research - google or microsoft or anyone else could usurp the idea from the average joe who spent a lot of research and effort to resolve the invention. just my 2 cents.
The fact that it will take an independent committee up to 1 year to do so for each one is rather less encouraging.
A battleground where only the rich can win a fight. There doesn't seem to be any justice left in the American courts :(.
The only way to win is to not play their game. It's probably cheaper to buy a shotgun and show up at the doorstep of the person suing you with the message: "I know where you live" :S
That's because with existing legislation, the patent troll business model is financially very sound if also inherently corrosive to society as a whole. "The dynamics of local vs. global optimization" is jargon from the team-building and process-design communities that applies here: a successful business strategy for the patent trolls is a huge failure for the community as a whole. This could also be considered a perverse incentive http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perverse_incentive
There are perverse incentives in both copyright and patent law that undermine the original Constitutional goals of "promot[ing] the Progress of Science and useful Arts..." that are especially powerful in our age of ever-increasing innovation where digital computers and The Internet have created a radically different "landscape" than that which existed when the first such laws were drafted.
Ideally, thoughtful legislative reforms would prevent such perverse incentives in the future so that both copyright and patent law would once again be aligned to serve the common good rather than the good of a few.
Large and democratic communities (such as those Joel Spolsky helped create) full of good questions and answers could go a long way towards helping to craft such thoughtful legislative reforms. See Ask Patents http://patents.stackexchange.com for such a community on patents, and http://goo.gl/5YDHa for such a proposed community on copyright.
Anyone who feels strongly about these issues, please go get involved by "Follow"ing the proposed CopyrightX community and submitting 5 Example Questions. With enough voting and other participation, the CopyrightX community proposal can graduate to an actual community like Ask Patents.
And with two vibrant communities full of good questions and answers related to IP law, perhaps future legislation will be free of perverse incentives, and we can once again rely on our laws to serve ALL of our best interests.
In the interim, thanks again Rackspace for being willing to continue the costly game of "whack-a-troll" on behalf of all of us.
This smells like another ugly practice by "rightsholders". Namely, the RIAA/MPAA litigation against individuals.
This is supposed to be kept in check by the fact that you can fight a patent.
I think that if you file a patent, sue someone over it, and lose you should be forced to pay 8X the amount you were suing for. That would severely limit who would try.
I also think that patents should only be allowed to be resold twice. This would limit the number of patents which could be used to extort money.
Lastly I think you should only be able to sue for patent infringement if you have a product using the patent currently in the market.
Those 2 simple rules would remove a lot of trolling.
What a merry little idea. Has it occurred to you that there are a large number of people who invent, innovate, and develop because it's simply not an option not to? That it is a sort of compulsion, a reason for being?
In a market without patents, I'm sure capitalists will find a way to keep making money, just as I'm sure that inventors and makers will continue to keep inventing and making.
That said, in the pharmaceutical or material science worlds, the cost and pace of research require that protection be afforded to those who choose to invest and disclose the fruits of their labor to the world.
It's not so black and white that there are no incentives for disclosed innovation, but patents are a big booster in some areas, for good reasons.
Patents exist because some people who came up with clever ideas thought (properly) that it was in their best interest to be granted a legal monopoly on the implementation of their ideas and lobbied lawmakers to grant them these monopolies.
Patents did not come into being because we, as a society (speaking as an American), determined that our pace of innovation was too slow and decided that we needed to do something about it.
This idea, that patents encourage innovation, is the justification, not the motivation, for the legal construct that is the patent. There were no experiments done to test this hypothesis. In fact, I think the history of invention before patents suggests quite strongly that they are not needed; that, in fact, people will invent simply because we are tool builders and tinkerers.
EDIT: To testify to the fact that people invented before patents: http://bibliodyssey.blogspot.com/2011/12/machine-power.html
A book from 1606 showing illustrations of gear and hydraulic powered devices. Some are fanciful, others less so, but they all clearly show humankind figuring out every last way to apply a technology to the tasks of every day life.
I can recommend a very interesting talk by Professor Eben Moglen, who teach law history and actually read discussions that happened between the people who wrote and worked with the first implementation of the US patent law (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPzpBn-XGxw).
Also, I am skeptical that guilds were historically the major impediment to the spread of technical knowledge. After all, once ideas are lodged in your mind, nobody can unlodge them, whether by force or persuasion, not even your own self.
I would look instead to the historically enormously high cost of travel and book printing. Since people and books are the carriers of ideas (historically, at least; now we have the Internet), this seems like a more direct explanation.
 http://www.rackspace.com/blog/patent-trolls-make-them-pay/ (last paragraph)
What's to stop them from declaring bankruptcy and wash their hands of the whole thing?
Since the troll's targets would probably have to pay their lawyers upfront, I don't see how this bill would make any difference.
Aren't all of the tech companies who are supposedly violating these patents proof that the patents aren't needed for innovation?
Isn't making a better product so you can have a leg up on your competition incentive enough?
That is what patents are supposed to protect. Cotton Gins, and Hyperspace engines. Not Rotate your screen on your phone like you do on your tablet.
Why not? What is special about non-obvious ideas, that they should not be as freely transmitted as obvious ones?
Also, why should the first person to file for a patent on an idea be the person who gets the monopoly on the idea? With 7 billion minds on this planet, even for non-obvious ideas, it seems highly likely that other people will independently come up with the same idea. It seems so arbitrary that the first person to file some paperwork is the only person to be rewarded.
The sometimes-vast sunk costs of the discoverer.
what you're arguing is basically a sort of teleological justification for communism; if innovations of one sort or another would be found anyway, their finding must be part of an inevitable progression and the identity of the individual finder is incidental, thus we should only reward labor in terms of time spent. Since there's now way to predict where the next discovery will come from, we may as well reward everyone's labor equally on the basis of time rather than productivity.
I don't mean this as an ideological criticism, if that's what you happen to believe is ideal; I'm just pointing out that that's where you argument goes and I'm not sure if that was where you intended it to do.
A patent, meaning a state enforced monopoly, meaning a method of taxation outside congress, is a method for the government to redistributive wealth. By artificially increase price and distribute that money back to investors, government argue that future investing is incentivized.
One is free of course to argue if such incentives actually happens or not, but I do not see how that could ever mean that no more intervention would ever happen if the government intervention stopped. Where does this insight come from, and is there any data to support it? Are the IT market really that unstable that it must get a constant flow of government generated money to justify investing in new products?
And why is this state granted monopolies granted with an exact 20 years duration with no thought of maximizing efficacy of government funded incentivies? Could 10 years give 90% as much incentives as 20? Is there alternative ways maybe thats less costly to society but as effective? Surely, improving the process in how the government intervene in the market is a noble goal?
In some areas, perhaps, but not when it comes to software.
This is easy to show. Software was not always patentable or was rarely patented, and innovation was no less rapid than it is now.
The underlying reason is that the marginal cost of R&D for software is lower than in any other field. In principle, it just requires a person and a computer (which is what you need for any kind of R&D). No expensive labs, no clinical trials, etc. If you have a person and a computer, you're a potential inventor; if you have a bunch of them, you're virtually guaranteed to invent something. If you have a bunch of such companies (or college departments), you're virtually guaranteed to constantly reinvent what somebody else has already figured out.
When Oracle sued Google, almost all of their patent claims were thrown out on reexamination; and those weren't trivial patents. It just so happened that practically all of them had already been figured out by somebody else; and we only know because Google was willing to throw a few thousand hours at researching prior art.
This is why reinvention in computer science is so common; this is also why patent trolls can flourish: Because reinvention is common, they have plenty of victims to target. If innovation were not so easy in computer science (at least relative to the standards of the USPTO), patent trolls in their current form could not sustain themselves.
This is quite obviously false, as there was innovation before patents were invented and not all innovations nowadays are patented. It isn't even at all clear that the existence of patents increases innovation.
Patents allow the existing power structure to sanction, spur and hobble innovation.
Patents are all about control.
Tell it to Larry and Sergei.
Without patents, where would they be?
My guess is, just about where they are now. Plus a compounded increment for not having to pay patent lawyers along the way!
I think patents should be entirely non-transferable. You should be able to license them to others, and perhaps designate a third-party that can manage the patent and license it on behalf of the owning entity.
The right to sue over the patent should never leave the original inventor.
We have never used them against others.
Unfortunately, we feel like we need to be prepared for when other patent-holding entities come knocking. We know they will, because they already have.
We don't make the mistake of confusing "patents" with "innovation." The majority of what we create, we release under open source licenses, including a patent license.
If people and companies want to play nice with us, we will play nice. We believe that we can compete, and win, in the marketplace. We are only preparing ourselves for the challenges of those who don't want to compete in the marketplace.
(Rackspace VP of IP)
Would love to have the breakdown of where the legal fees are going to file the inter parties review. To me seems like several hundred hours of legal work involved. (75000/400 approx.)
(Wondering also whether the IPR stays any legal proceedings that have started or prevents any legal proceedings.)
I think this is an area where Google could really be useful. With their database and search algorithms, it'd be doable for them to put together a service to do prior art searches. Maybe use text analysis to summarize prior patents into English (since they're written in a fairly structured way to begin with).
It doesn't need to be advanced AI. Anything they came up with would certainly be better than whatever process the USPTO uses now.
In other words, if the amount of information on the web doubles every year, the probability of finding prior art that can invalidate any patent doubles as well. By this point in time, with the amount of information that has been moved online, the probability of having a patent not subject to prior art claims seems astronomically low.
As an anecdote, I just saw "The Mother of All Demos" (1968 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfIgzSoTMOs), for the first time the other day. That video alone contains dozens of inventions that I thought were relatively recent.
Ten million cat videos don't constitute prior art against RSA, for example.
By placing more focus on patents rather than on real innovation, we are far from acting as a catalyst to promote innovation in developing countries like India. Intellectual monopolies in the developed world prohibit SMEs in developing countries from growing to the point where they are able to compete in global markets with the western IP heavyweights. It is imperative that developing countries like India and China place careful thought before committing to restrictive FTAs that are specifically designed to keep them at a lower level of technological development.
First, there is the asymmetry of cost, ie. it probably costs less money to file for and be granted a bogus patent than it costs to invalidate said patent.
Secondly, there is the asymmetry of motivation, ie. patent trolls have greater financial motivation to file for bogus patents than other parties have financial motivation to invalidate these patents.
These asymmetries are really the root of the problem. What's really needed is a lobbying group to pass legislation that changes the incentive structure, including, in my opinion, abolishing patents.
The problem here is that many of the organizations who could fund such a lobbying group (like Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc.) have been coopted by the patent system, because they themselves are patent holders.
Actually, its worse than that; they seem convinced that their patents have actual intrinsic value, which kind of makes sense. They spend a lot of money doing research and development, so of course they want to believe that a legal mechanism for preserving the value of that R&D is legitimate.
This whole thing is frustrating...
Is it not? Should Apple, Google, etc, do the industry's R&D for free? Google's self-driving car is patented. Should Kia be allowed to come along and reverse-engineer the firmware and free-ride on their efforts?
I'm not being confrontational, I'm genuinely interested to hear your viewpoint.
Regarding Google's self driving car: anybody reverse engineering Google's firmware is going to incur enormous R&D costs of their own. The only way they could avoid these is if they could use a copy of the source code, but that's protected by copyright (which, unlike patents, I agree with, since it protects implementations, not ideas).
My issues with patents are these:
1. I just don't think ideas should be ownable. A primary purpose of language, one of the characteristics that defines us as a species, is to transmit ideas from one person to another. In other words, we have evolved to allow one person to have an idea, then make some utterance which takes this idea and makes a copy of it in the mind of another person, instantaneously. To me, this points unavoidably to the fact that sharing of ideas is part of what makes us human. To put restriction on this fundamental human-ness strikes me as deeply wrong. Or, at the very least, good for a few at the expense of the many (AIDS drugs in Africa, etc.).
2. Even if you think ideas should be ownable, patents attempt to reward the first person who comes up with an idea, but being the first to an idea is incredibly arbitrary. As an example, I don't get to invent 1-Click Purchase because I just started developing software 2 years ago. Seems unjust.
I'm wondering what it would take to force a fight on crap patents - create something that infringes on a patent, contact the NPE through some untraceable channel to inform them, then await the lawsuit (or "licensing offer").
We cannot afford to let patent trolls win.
Why don't you make a kickstarter project to pay for the IPR?
As you said, other companies are interested in sharing the cost, as trolls go after them too. Why not sharing the cost too?.
Companies that are affected by trolls are acting like independent entities, witch makes them extremely vulnerable to big companies and capitalized trolls.
You need to unite!
Small and medium business are most of America's or European business, but if you act alone and divided you will be easily defeated(divide and conquer)
Eliminating this one patent is pretty useless. Admirable in a certain sense, but there are thousands of other ridiculous patents. You can't fix the entire system one patent at a time.
But perhaps it ultimate comes down to their service, the products they offer, and price.
We've used them for a while without any major complaints.
Also, China, only very very few are rich, definitely less than the USA's 1 percent. And only those in power make the decisions, those little guys ideas are easily walked on by a number of "market competition" methods.
You have no way of proving this connection. Practice even shows completely the opposite - absence of software patents increases creativity. "Stealing" is using the patents to extort money. Or should I rather call it robbing to sound more appropriate? So abolishing software patents will reduce robbing.
As a matter of fact, they did have patents in the Soviet Union, although those were more like a commendation badge, not a monopoly to reap the benefits; but it seemed to work.
This makes patents a valuable asset for start ups while completely killing the patent troll business.
Patents can be useful, don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
Patents are morally reprehensible. If society is going to have some vaguely patent-like thing, it's going to have to be radically different from what we think of when we think of patents, something far more modest than this insane binding of other people's thoughts for the sake of the childish whine: "but I thought of it first!"