In Wired, Robert McMillan profiles Rockstar, a world-class patent troll based in Canada, which was capitalized to buy up Nortel's "defensive" patent portfolio for billions of dollars and now does nothing but look for companies that make stuff that people like and use, so it can send them legal threats. Rockstar itself has no products, aside from legal threats. Reading this left me with the taste of sick in my mouth, and a sense that the patent system has to be reformed or taken down altogether, before it turns parasitism and lawsuits into the only viable technology business-models.
But Widdowson is a specialist. He’s one of 10 reverse-engineers working full time for a stealthy company funded by some of the biggest names in technology: Apple, Microsoft, Research In Motion, Sony, and Ericsson. Called the Rockstar Consortium, the 32-person outfit has a single-minded mission: It examines successful products, like routers and smartphones, and it tries to find proof that these products infringe on a portfolio of over 4,000 technology patents once owned by one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies.
When a Rockstar engineer uncovers evidence of infringement, the company documents it, contacts the manufacturer, and demands licensing fees for the patents in question. The demand is backed by the implicit threat of a patent lawsuit in federal court. Eight of the company’s staff are lawyers. In the last two months, Rockstar has started negotiations with as many as 100 potential licensees. And with control of a patent portfolio covering core wireless communications technologies such as LTE (Long Term Evolution) and 3G, there is literally no end in sight.
“Pretty much anybody out there is infringing,” says John Veschi, Rockstar’s CEO. “It would be hard for me to envision that there are high-tech companies out there that don’t use some of the patents in our portfolio.”
How Apple and Microsoft Armed 4,000 Patent Warheads
An official New Zealand government bulletin on yesterday’s conclusion of the still-secret Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations accidentally confirmed something we all believed was in there all along: an extension of copyright terms to match the USA’s bizarre, evidence-free, century-plus terms.
Tim Harford, the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist, writes about the Happy Birthday to You court case, which finally settled the question of whether the familiar birthday song was still in copyright (it isn’t) and uses that as a springboard to ask the question: how long should copyright last?
For most of a decade, government negotiators from around the Pacific Rim have met in utmost secrecy to negotiate a “trade deal” that was kept secret from legislatures, though executives from the world’s biggest corporations were allowed in the room and even got to draft parts of the treaty.
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