The IBM ‘Patent Troll’ Patent

Found on Slashdot.

IBM has applied for a patent for a “system and method for extracting value from a portfolio of assets”, filed in April, but becoming public on October 18.  While the Slashdot article infers that it is a formalisation of a patent protection racket (which is loosely the large company version of what a patent troll does) it is unlikely that IBM would try to patent this style of operation.  Too much prior art.

This appears to be my un-lawyerly eyes to be ‘patent-troll’ insurance.  One method to protect yourself from certain types of patent claims is to have a protective portfolio of patents yourself.  A suit of patent infringement can then turn into a case on who’s patent is valid in that case.  For an opportunistic claimant, pursuing a case against you is harder and more risky.

IBM has lots of patents (over 40,000 according to them) and are highly skilled in IP law.  The thought of having to defend themselves against a rival IBM patent would be a negative motivator to a prospective lawsuit.  For a small to medium company to have access to this protection would be worth some money.

For IBM this also would simplify the management of their IP and make it easier for others to license IBM technology, which increases the revenue potential for them.  While it appears to be a good business idea, whether it should be patentable is another matter.  I have a personal dislike of patenting business models or ideas, or of the patenting of the use of a technology.  Maybe a lower class of patent needs to be introduced, where the patent office can say “yeah, interesting idea but a bit anti-competitive to have a patent.  Have 2 years of exclusivity only.”