Silicon Valley has had an issue with patent trolls as long as anybody can remember. Called “patent assertion entities”, these firms don’t do anything but simply buy up or register patents in the hopes that somebody puts out an actual product that fits their patent. From there, they demand royalties or sue. Patent trolls are no longer solely a tech industry issue, however, so back in 2014, Google created a patent troll protection agency of sorts called License on Transfer. Members of License on Transfer essentially agree to keep licenses for their patents out of the hands of patent trolls and that their patents will never be used by a patent troll against another member. Now, auto companies are starting to join in the fun, with the two newest customers being General Motors and Honda, on the heels of Ford joining up in 2015.
Within the License on Transfer network, members are still able to license to and sue one another, but the network consists only of companies making actual products. Roughly 70 strong now, the lineup sports big names in the tech world like Google themselves, of course, along with the likes of Red Hat and Dropbox. With the auto industry moving into the fray, it’s becoming quite clear that the advent of technological everything, the internet of things, and the fact that ideas are easier than ever to make a reality, just about everybody who wants to put out any kind of product could end up having to deal with a patent troll or two.
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The CEO of the whole setup, Ken Seddon, said as much, pointing out that “almost every big firm is a tech company these days”, and thus vulnerable to patent trolls’ tactics. While that point and the wording thereof could spark lively debate, nobody is debating the fact that such a network is a necessary step in protecting legitimate innovation from those who would simply put their idea through the patent office to make money off of it without every bringing it out to the world, or even file patents based on market speculation, knowing that somebody would inevitably have to stumble upon the same idea in order to move a given industry forward. While it’s fairly easy to challenge bum patents these days, the firms within the network are working toward a future without patent trolls instead, as is Google. On top of running the LOT Network, Google buys up patents and hands them out to worthy startups, as well as filing many of their own patents. While patent trolls may never fully go away, Google’s work and the LOT Network are a step in the right direction.