When Patents Attack

There is an awesome episode of “This American Life” this week on patents and how people and companies are abusing them.
Beware, this will make you want to punch a wall.


I agree this is very upsetting. I went to the Academy of Art University in SF from 2004-2008. I am pretty sure I met someone from IV my last year. He talked about the same mission as mentioned in the podcast to help inventors on and on. I remember not feeling positive about what he had to say. Not saying that I thought he was talking about this level of a patent trolling or anything. This is very disappointing and hopefully in the next 10 to 15 years there will be some drastic amendments to the patent laws.

Great listen and great find — thank you.

Very good info, thanks for posting. I cant wait for my fiances next company event to chat with the IP attorney about this. Im curious how she views this situation.

They never should have allowed software patents, or patents on genetic information, or anything else non-tangible. Make it mechanical design only, and most patent trolls disappear. The whole process is also way too slow, and the insistence on 18th century legalese language and drawings makes it even worse. Have you ever tried to read a patent without looking at the drawings? It’s virtually impossible to tell what a patent even covers. The non-functional design patent system could use some reform too, as it’s totally useless right now.

Great article.
I loved the toast story, that 30% of patents are for stuff that is already out there.

My (limited) understanding is a patent is for the application of an idea, not the idea itself. So if software is for the execution of process A, and different companies write different software to execute process A, then no patent infringment, but if company 1 copies company 2’s code, then patent infringment.

Also, what a bunch of self-serving hypocrits. Money money money. Investors who have no connection or emotional investment to the industry they are seeking a return from shouldn’t be allowed.

Great stuff.

I’m interested in learning more about those 1994 and 1998 Federal court rulings that opened the floodgates. It seems to me if those were reversed, the MAD approach to aquiring patents would be stifled.

I also wonder about patent nullification and why it is not used as a strategy against these overly broad patents. I guess that is another good question for a lawyer. Seems they always make out in the end.

I completely agree with the intent of IP but what was reported here is a complete perversion of the system.

Thanks for posting - it was a great listen

Interesting related story. When I was in footwear, someone patented a very specific part of a shoe. What the lawyers didn’t understand was that this very application had been in use for years. Not being highly noticeable, the patent was approved, and the patent holder went on to sue every major manufacturer. It was worked out in time, but it made for a hellish year of providing documentation and figuring out other ways to achieve the same performance requirement, only to have it all go away eventually.

Patents can be fantastic to protect an individual or company who invests considerably in an R&D effort. It is also fun to have patents, I have in the neighborhood of 20 or so. Like anything they can be misused. In general they are positive though I think.

For each of your patents, did you get them because you planned on, or were taking the idea to market? What scares me about this whole story is these major corporations and patent troll companies collecting tons of patents just to sit on them and use them as ammunition in a court room.

In each case it was the corporation I was either working for directly or consulting for through the firm I worked for. The corporation owned all rights for use and profit and responsibilities for enforcement. Like I said, I’m more interested in making the next thing than protecting the last thing. That is my role in these organizations as a designer. The protection part is a matter for lawyers whose role it is to protect. Both sides are working for a company and generating revenue in different ways.

they are fun though: