If we’re going to extend the patents-as-nuclear-weapons metaphor from the intro to this article, the equivalent of the rogue state or the nuclear-armed terrorist group would be the “patent troll”: a company that has little or no business activity other than ownership of (often broadly written) patents and associated litigation. The name was coined by Intel General Counsel Peter Detkin, who was sued for libel when he called a litigation opponent a “patent extortionist,” with “troll” being an apparently non-actionable term of abuse. These companies are among the most hated among techies, though the companies themselves argue that they encourage innovation by buying patents from others, and subsequently have the right to enforce the rights they’ve acquired.
One case that has the whiff of a classic patent troll fight is VirnetX v. Microsoft; the former is suing the latter over patented VPN technologies that, according to VirnetX, have been built into virtually every Microsoft Office and Windows product of the last decade. VirnetX sells no products, and the patents were originally issued to Science Applications International Corp., and developed for the U.S. Navy — and, most infuriatingly to those who find this sort of litigation distasteful, the judge’s moves in the case so far have favored VirnetX.
But there can also be a tendency to see a company you’ve never heard of issuing mass lawsuits against big names and assume they’re a troll. That might have been many people’s first reaction when hearing that IBM, Sun, Oracle, eBay, Cisco, and Adobe were all being sued by TecSec, a company that got several orders of magnitude more famous when news of this lawsuit hit the tech press. But TecSec, though obscure, is a real company with real products you can buy, based on the sort of encryption it claims is being pilfered by the giants. We’re in no position to judge the legitimacy of those claims, of couse, but it at least it looks to be a legitimate tech vendor.
Picture courtesy ofelgin.jessica
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