As a novelist, I make my living by creating worlds and experiences for my readers. I have to say it hurts to see innovators like me under attack.
I am talking about patent trolls, and more specifically, government-sponsored patent trolls.
Patent trolls are generally described as individuals or businesses who buy up the assets of companies down on their luck. Then they use frequently vague patents to sue or threaten to sue other companies for infringement. Trolls are not contributing to the economy or society by actually using these patents to produce products or make the world better. Instead they tie up legitimate companies in court.
Many large companies these days are employing entire divisions to protect themselves against this very thing. The sad fact is that many smaller businesses cannot always afford the cost of protecting themselves and are forced to settle despite never even infringing the patent in question.
Even more dangerous are trolls sponsored by foreign governments. They have the entire economic interest of a country to throw behind their attacks, generally against companies whose successes are winning in the marketplace, perhaps displacing the foreign country’s own businesses.
Countries that host their own government-sponsored patent trolling include China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. It’s an intimidating list, one that’s likely to grow if we don’t do something.
A troll for China, called Ruichuan IPR Funds, sprung up earlier this year. Others have been around for some time: the Innovation Network Corp. (run by the Japanese government), Intellectual Discovery (run by the Korean government), and Industrial Technology Research Institute (run by the Taiwanese government). The short of it is: This problem is not going away. We simply cannot ignore this.
Patents protect property owners who have invested financially and intellectually in their ideas, products and services. Without a well-protected patent system, companies are naturally hesitant to invest what they need (and we as consumers need) to drive innovation. Patents provide the framework by which companies can differentiate their products and services and compete in a fair and open marketplace. I mean, this is what we want, right?
When foreign governments become involved by sponsoring patent trolls, they are placing their country’s interests over the principles of an open and competitive marketplace. They place protectionism above consumer choice. That’s their decision, but it doesn’t mean we have to accept it without a fight.
As a professional who depends on the protection of intellectual property to maintain my business and my brand, I strongly believe in laws that protect legitimate businesses against copying and encroachment from others. I believe in the protection of innovation and creativity. And the U.S. patent system is one of the best. Our nation’s economy is built on innovators who have created entire industries and who deserve the protection of their intellectual property.
But if American companies are under constant attack from patent trolls, especially trolls supported by the deep pockets of foreign governments, the system will not work efficiently. We need more innovators who use their intellect to create products and services. And less of those dangerous patent trolls, particularly when they are the creations of the governments that support them.
Angie Fox wrote the bestselling "Accidental Demon Slayer" and the "Monster MASH" book series. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and lives in the St. Louis area.