Beware the march of the IP trolls at the House Committee on Small Business

I just got an announcement of a hearing to take place tomorrow before
the U.S. House Committee on Small Business. I don’t see many
representatives of small businesses on the panel, but rather
spokespeople for the most conservative forces in the area known as
intellectual property. Speakers come from the Computer &
Communications Industry Association, the Songwriters Guild of America,
the Business Software Alliance, the Association for Competitive
Technology, and the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association.

It would be eye-opening for the House Committee to listen to actual
innovators, garage inventors, and creative artists trying to work
around the copyright and patent traps in the current system. I do not
oppose copyright or patents and I know they sometimes produce rewards
for innovators. But the forces before the committee are no friends of
creative people. Most of them are well-known to readers of this website for their raids on defenseless shops and their attempts to
unfairly extend the control that the law has traditionally given them
through technical and legal machinations.

I admit I hadn’t heard of the Association for Competitive Technology
before, but the latest
article posted to their website
, which covers the Bilski case and is filled with smarmy slurs against people who
want to reform the patent, made me uninterested in looking further.

What new massacre of technological and cultural innovators is being
planned behind closed doors? Is it time to impose ACTA on the U.S.?
Sitting at a true incubator of innovation, O’Reilly’s Open Source convention, I
shudder awaiting the fallout from this controlled chain reaction.

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  • Lew

    We fought for over 200 years for property rights so that oligarchs were unable to usurp private wealth. Just because someone labels this process as “cool” does not change its impact

    The Founders’ Concept of “Property”

  • Mark Blafkin


    I think you may have misread a few things. Yes, my colleague engaged a few rhetorical flourishes at the expense of those who want to abolish the patent system entirely. However, given that even those who supposedly don’t “oppose copyright or patents” call us and our members “trolls,” I think you can forgive us on that ;-)

    However, we said NOTHING negative about the people that actually want to “reform” the system, mainly because we ARE those people. We’ve been fighting for real patent reform for more than a decade – reform that focuses on raising the bar for all patents. We have always said trying to simply categorically certain realms of technology and methods from patentability is the wrong approach, and the Supreme Court agreed with us.

    More generically, our position is that the current IP system has its failings, especially for smaller firms, but it is also a critical tools for small innovative companies (even open source ones). We need to focus on making it better, not tearing it down.

    Most importantly, however, you should re-read the notice from the Small Business Committee. On behalf of the Association for Competitive Technology, one of our member company executives will be testifying. That company, Traffax, is a truly innovative company that was started in a garage, but is based on some patent licensed from the University of Maryland. Traffax is using that intellectual property to help cities remove traffic congestion and move toward a greener more sustainable environment.

    I think that is the kind of innovation that we can all agree is pretty valuable.

  • Andy Oram

    Mark, thanks a lot for reading and responding. I’ll take a closer look at your work, as you deserve. Your position could well be a welcome balance to what I expect the better-known organizations to say. If the testimonies are posted I will read them.

  • Alex

    The main thing I remember ACT from is the US v Microsoft antitrust case, where ACT seemed to be basically a sock puppet/astroturfer for Microsoft.

    Lew: The article you cite quotes an essay by Madison, in which he says:

    “In its larger and juster meaning, [property] embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.”

    That hardly includes patents.