A recent Reason (sic) blog belittles the patent acquisition and subsequent licensing effort of Rockstar Consortium. As documented here, Rockstar’s now highly public licensing program marks the beginning of an inevitable recovery and monetization phase, easily predicted following a $4.5 B patent acquisition. While followers of the IP transactional marketplace recognize Rockstar as simply another in a line of investments bravely forging a more liquid market for patent assets, the blog post’s author resorts simply to epithets, fear-mongering and mystical imagery, rather than, say, reason to understand and describe the firm’s activities.
A rather foreboding, mythical creature adorns the post while the author compares today’s patent licensing activity to the cold war’s feared “nuclear holocaust.” Aside from slapping the faces of the actual victims of the 20th Century’s cold war, the Reason (sic) author illustrates an obvious appeal to a more visceral, emotional reaction, rather than to the intellect. By the time the Reason (sic) author mentions the “inevitable anti-innovation fallout” of this so-called patent “cold war,” many a reader likely immediately struck the famous ‘duck-and-cover’ pose, cowering in fear from these patents that sure to destroy us all. (Did you see that evil monster? We’re all screwed!)
Of course, the danger in Reason’s (sic) fear-mongering tactic lies in the appeal of an overly simplistic message: Company A has a piece of paper permitting the court system to prevent Company B from using some Technology X. If I want to use Technology X, and B wants to provide it to me, then B must be “good” and A must be “bad.” The work, money or effort behind Company A’s property rights to Technology X suddenly become irrelevant in this scenario, as the hedonistic desire to use available resources takes over.
Unfortunately, after hundreds of years and several attempts, we have create a strikingly imperfect property rights system to protect inventions. Although laws are passed to secure property rights in new, non-obvious inventions, and government agencies exist to ensure those rights are rewarded or denied appropriately, the execution of both leaves behind a culture of disrespect for property creators. Our patent system requires inventors to fully disclose how to make and use their inventions in advance, for the promise of exclusive rights to the invention later. Of course, those who use technology to build businesses and products often use proprietary parts or methods without paying. On a large scale, companies engage lawyers like mercenaries to wage a private war against specific patents, and a very public campaign against patents in general.
When patent owners use the only means available to license and monetize their property, companies–and the publications like Reason (sic) who cover them–issue a stern rebuke, claiming that doing so only uses the courts as a place of commerce. It’s a no-win situation for the patent owners, however. When lawsuits are filed seeking injunctions against future infringement, pundits and bloggers claim the patent owner wants to “shut down” some industry.
Ironically, though, monetization of intellectual property is alive and well at Reason (sic) magazine. While the company mock’s Rockstar’s legitimate efforts to capitalize on its patent investment, Reason (sic) capitalizes on its own investment in creation of intellectual assets. The blog’s author links to an article by Reason (sic) Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey, who published at article in an earlier print edition of Reason (sic) Magazine. The link, however, only shows you the opening paragraph of Bailey’s article, with the rest obscured from view with a graphic instructing the reader to “Answer a question” to continue reading (see below).
The survey question enables the organization behind Reason (sic) to monetize its intellectual property–in this case, a copyright-protected written work by Mr. Bailey. The explanation behind the survey question states:
The website you are visiting is using a survey, powered by Google, to enable access to its paid content. Answering a quick question here gives you immediate access to the content you want without having to pull out your wallet or sign in. These surveys contain questions written and provided by survey creators that want to conduct market research. The website you’re visiting earns money from the surveys that appear. This service … helps to fund great web content and enables you easily and quickly get access to it.
So, evidently, while Rockstar’s monetization effort receives scorn, Reason (sic) easily demonstrates the intuitive desire to monetize its own IP. Does Reason (sic) magazine think it’s intellectual assets are more deserving of monetization than yours? Of course, the editors will just tell you that their system is entirely voluntary, and that potential readers are free to decline. However, the same is true in patent monetization. Companies are free to research and avoid patented technology in their products, and if they do, the patent owners have no means of coercing adoption and payment. What companies are not free to do, however, is to take proprietary technology and refuse to compensate the owner, just as it would be a crime for someone to take the benefit of Reason’s (sic) content without using one of their chosen compensation options.