Patent law and disorder: The trolls are at it again

Walker Digital is playing our patent system like a fiddle with its lawsuits against Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and more

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Let me translate: Walker Digital said, "Hey, you make a GPS product that shows pictures of places -- you have to pay us or we'll sue you." The companies told Walker to take a hike (with or without visual cues); now here's the lawsuit.

To be clear, unlike pure patent trolls, Walker Digital has actually invented and marketed products, not just simply snapped up another company's portfolio in an effort to make a few bucks off someone else's hard work. Priceline, for example, is a truly innovative service that has totally changed the travel industry (and saved me buckets of money on hotels, I might add).

But is this what the patent system was created for? I don't think so. Yet there seems to be a new multi-million-dollar patent suit every damned week, usually over business processes whose paternity is suspect at best. That's why Google and Microsoft are fighting to get control of Nortel's patent portfolio. They want to insulate themselves against lawsuits, essentially telling the world, "If you sue us for violating your patents, we're sure to find a patent you violated and sue you, so back off Jack."

Patent law was designed to protect inventors and innovators, not as a tool for extortion. But that's what it's become. How patents are issued and what can be done with them needs to change -- before we're all sued for common acts we perform every day.

Who would you sue for patent infringement? File your briefs below or email me:

This article, "Patent law and disorder: The trolls are at it again," was originally published at Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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