Curtis Carter
CodingCoyote Blog

CodingCoyote Blog

Project Jengo Redux

Why Patent Trolls Are a Problem

Curtis Carter's photo
Curtis Carter
·May 24, 2022·

3 min read

The original Project Jengo began after Blackbird Technologies sued CloudFlare over old and very vague patents that probably shouldn't have been granted in the first place. Instead of paying the troll to leave them alone, they fought back. They didn't do it because it was easier, or because it was cheaper. They did it for the same reason I participated in Round 2. To secure a brighter future for the world.

What Makes a Bad Patent

Patents grant the right to make/use/license a particular technological design. And are a good motivator for innovators who do not have the means to profit directly from their ideas. But not all patents are good patents.

In particular, the U.S. Patent Office requires that a patent is specific enough to actually describe an idea. You can't patent "do x faster", but you could patent "do x faster by doing y, followed by z". And each patent is supposed to be a new idea and sufficiently different that anyone skilled in the area of the patent would not consider it an obvious change. That's where vague patents come in.

Overly vague patents cover an idea in a way that it may not be obviously different, or sufficiently precise to actually describe a new process or improvement. And since we cannot reasonably put people in the patent office that have an expertise in every possible field, or require them to remember every patent that has ever been registered sometimes things slip through.

Why Bad Patents Are Dangerous and Not Just a Nuisance

Patent trolls often buy older companies, rights to older patents, etc in order to use those patents to sue people who may or may not be infringing on the patent. In the case of Blackbird Technologies, they sued over 100 companies in the span of 3 years with a set of weak patents.

If you are a small enough company, this could put you under. Larger companies may still shy away from innovating on an existing idea to avoid the possibility of being sued even if they know they would win the court case (defending yourself in court isn't cheap).

What You Can Do To Help

I won round 3 of Project Jengo Redux. This time CloudFlare was sued by Sable Networks ("a company that doesn’t appear to have operated a real business in nearly ten years"). Over what? Patents like "Identifying flows based on behavior characteristics and applying user-defined actions". I don't know about you, but that sounds like general Quality of Service that you'd see in almost any networking stack. And another patent "Mechanism for identifying and penalizing misbehaving flows in a network" sounds very similar and is 2 years older.

Participating in Project Jengo isn't hard. Pick a patent like I did with the ones above, and search for similar keywords and alternate jargon either in older research papers, blogs, or even Google Patent Search. The goal is to find anything sufficiently similar and hopefully even more specific that predates the earliest priority date on the patents in question.

If you're a small business owner or an Open Source maintainer, this could be valuable practice for finding information to defend yourself if you end up in court with a patent troll.

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