Enter the "patent troll:" an irreverent term referring to those who deal in the purchase and defense of patent rights. Patent trolls purchase troves of patents, then litigate to turn a profit on their purchase. Sometimes, the patent merchants get a cut of the proceeds from litigation executed by their customers. All this is justified as defense of intellectual property and encouragement of innovation. But this is actually a simple form of capitalism.
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Both of them rely on a bottleneck model of value exchange: a relatively scarce resource or medium of exchange puts the controllers of the bottleneck in a position of heightened demand for their synchronous activity with the mode of production. - Economic Liberals Admit it: Capitalists Own UsThe business model is not new. It has been around at least since Mercantilism advocated monopolies on shipping ports. It forms the basis of many economic institutions and processes. And its self-justification is precisely the same: by incentivizing innovation, "consumer driven" capital allocation or managing risk, markets are "rationalized" by these business models. In the information age, it only makes sense that capital purchases increasingly take the form of intellectual property. Patent trolling is therefore little more than an extension of capitalist business sense, under the guise of property rights.
It came to me with much wonder, then, when NPR ran a story on This American Life attacking this business model:
"All the big tech companies have started amassing troves of software patents — not to build anything, but to defend themselves. If a company's patent horde is big enough, it can essentially say to the world, "If you try to sue me with your patents, I'll sue you with mine.One hardly expects Patent Trolling's critics to confront the underlying relationship - the disproportionate access to control over aspects of economic processes. In fact, many of the critics of Patent Trolling are entrepreneurs themselves - since they are competing for access to the same exclusive power.
It's mutually assured destruction. But instead of arsenals of nuclear weapons, it's arsenals of patents." - Alex Blumberg and Laura Sydell, When Patents Attack
Blumberg and Sydell go on to cite an apparent Achilles' Heel for proponents of the business model: many patents overlap, and a firm specializing in patent integrity found that thousands of patents could be invoked for the same technology. But this only indemnifies companies whose patents overlap; if anything, this is a bulwark against litigation since overlapping patents create multiple sources to defend innovation. However, the underlying problem is still present: production is itself the source of risk. But this is also a common feature of capitalism. Stephen King of HSBC / ECB Shadow Council:
"Increasingly, policymakers are accepting that market forces, left to their own devices, will lead to a race to the bottom. The dangers are becoming greater by the day. Interest rates are close to zero while prices and wages are in danger of declining. If deflation takes hold, real interest rates on cash will start to rise, creating perverse incentives in capital markets. Why bother to buy equities or corporate bonds if you are nicely rewarded for hanging on to an entirely risk-free piece of paper?" -Stephen King, As Capitalism Stares into the Abyss, Was Marx Right All Along?And in fact, Blumberg and Sydell agree:
"That $4.5 billion won't build anything new, won't bring new products to the shelves, won't open up new factories that can hire people who need jobs. That's $4.5 billion dollars that adds to the price of every product these companies sell you. That's $4.5 billion dollars buying arms for an ongoing patent war."- Alex Blumberg and Laura Sydell, When Patents AttackAs I have pointed out, handouts to the private sector - supply-side economics - don't build anything new. You won't be getting new products, factories or jobs with the upcoming Tarp 2.0. You won't get it with reduced government expenditures or lowered corporate taxes. For all intents and purposes, the "Patent Trolling" strangulation lamented above is nothing more than the extension of capitalism into the information age. All of the overproduction and slowdown cited represents the hegemony of profit over production value, supplier versus consumer.