Monday, July 25, 2011

This American Life: NPE Issue Going Mainstream

I tweeted a link to this Planet Money article a few days ago. The companion audio program from This American Life is now available online.

I wish I could say the program was inaccurate or sensationalist. It's not. As someone who worked on the fringes of NPE-world for a good number of years, I was surprised at how well the story was reported.

Even when I was certain that their "patent on toast" anecdote was a misreading based on a patent title instead of the claims, I checked, and sure enough, the claims required just a temperature and a time within certain ranges.

Most notable for me, though, was the portion where the reporters were questioning Peter Detkin about the assignment records of a patent IV itself has presented as embodying their "help the inventors" ethos. The reporters seemed genuinely confused by assignment of the patent to what sounded to anyone in the NPE business like IV shell companies.

Rather than say, "oh, those are just shell companies we use for acquisitions," Detkin became surprisingly defensive and evasive. Later, in a follow-up interview, perhaps having sensed the PR implications of his earlier responses, Detkin softened and admitted the strangely named companies were IV's.

When Detkin is "on," he impressively and articulately argues the case that IV is not evil. When the usually-smooth Detkin starts sounding defensive and testy, though, you start wondering if IV is getting worried. (I was reminded a bit of RIM co-CEO Lazaridis' meltdown. Testy execs can be a signal of impending problems.)

As public awareness and outrage over NPE issues grow, there will be an opening to push for reform. It is possible to mitigate these problems. However, as long as the sophistication of the arguments lingers at "software patents are bad," the interests of developers will not have meaningful impact.

I'll try to write more on that later.




J said...

Sorry to post on a specific article but I couldn't find a contact link.
Do you know that the body-fauxcolumn div in your main page obscures the top of the content (in Chrome 11 & IE6 at least). I always have to delete that node (using Chrome dev tools Ctrl+Shift+I) to see the page.

Aside from that though - love the blog. thanks

igoeIP said...

Can you email a screenshot of the problem to I just loaded the latest Chrome on my Air to check and do not see any obscured blog content. Thanks!