Earlier this month, a group of America’s most prominent investors banded together in the fight against patent trolls. This week, inventors themselves -- listed on over 150 patents -- are speaking out and calling for comprehensive patent reform.
The prominent engineers and entrepreneurs who signed the letter include Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder; Dustin Moskovitz, Facebook co-founder; Ranganathan Krishnan, former Principal Engineer at Qualcomm; and Paul Sutter, Quantcast co-founder.
These inventors are among a list of 50 technologists calling for Congress to curb the impact of the patent troll business model on young innovative companies. As a diverse group of engineers, the signatories have contributed to the development of the internet alongside the creation and improvement of well-known household technologies. Together, they acknowledge the need to reform the current patent system to prevent abuse by non-practicing patent trolls.
With proposals for reform currently circulating in Washington, participants in America’s innovation economy are eager for change.
Here’s the full text of the letter being sent to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees:
We, the undersigned, are a group of inventors, technologists and entrepreneurs. Many of us have founded technology businesses; we have invented many of the protocols, systems and devices that make the Internet work, and we are collectively listed as the inventors on over 150 patents.
We write to you today about the U.S. patent system. That system is broken. Based on our experiences building and deploying new digital technologies, we believe that software patents are doing more harm than good. Perhaps it is time to reexamine the idea, dating from the 1980s, that government-issued monopolies on algorithms, protocols and data structures are the best way to promote the advancement of computer science.
But that will be a complex task, and one we don't expect to happen quickly. Unfortunately, aspects of the problem have become so acute they must be addressed immediately.
Broad, vague patents covering software-type inventions—some of which we ourselves are listed as inventors on—are a malfunctioning component of America's inventive machinery. This is particularly the case when those patents end up in the hands of non-practicing patent trolls.
These non-practicing entities do not make or sell anything. Their exploitation of patents as a tool for extortion is undermining America’s technological progress; patent trolls are collecting taxes on innovation by extracting billions of dollars in dubious licensing fees, and wasting the time and management resources of creative businesses. Many of us would have achieved much less in our careers if the trolling problem had been as dire in past decades as it is now.
Some legislative proposals under current consideration would fix the trolling problem. These include:
Requiring that patent lawsuits actually explain which patents are infringed by which aspects of a defendant's technology, and how;
Making clear who really owns the patent at issue;
Allowing courts to shift fees to winning parties, making it rational for those threatened with an egregious patent suit to actually fight against the threat rather than paying what amounts to protection money;
Ensuring that those who purchase common, off-the-shelf technologies are shielded if they are sued for using them; and
Increasing opportunities for streamlined patent review at the patent office.
While subduing the trolling threat, these proposed changes will not fix the software patent problem completely. Congress should consider ways to stop these patents from interfering with open standards and open source software; from being claimed on problems, rather than solutions; and from being drafted so obscurely that they teach us nothing and cannot be searched. Congress needs to examine the very question of whether their net impact is positive.
But for now, we urge you to implement simple and urgently necessary reforms. We believe in the promise of technology and the power of creation to increase access to information, to create jobs, and to make the world a better place. Please do not let patent trolls continue to frustrate that purpose.