The Tao of Steve

New York Times Takes a Preemptive Strike Against The Patent Trolls at Lodsys

lodsys snapshot3 New York Times Takes a Preemptive Strike Against The Patent Trolls at Lodsys

From the fake Lodsys Twitter page.

Woo boy, the normally dry and wonky world of patent law is getting interesting. The New York Times has filed suit against Lodsys, a patent firm (some might say troll) that has been targeting Apple developers.

FOSS Patents Florian Mueller sees the filings as confirmation that Lodsys sent out “a vast number of patent assertion letters” targeting more than just small-time developers.

But unlike the seven tiny iOS developers Lodsys sued in May for violating a patent for in-app purchase mechanism, today’s suits from the Times and market research firm Opinion Lab are a counter-strike to ensure that “they sue Lodsys before Lodsys sues them,” Mr. Mueller explains.

If you’re keeping track, the tally comes to seven lawsuits total in this skirmish: three of them started by Lodsys, but four by companies seeking to invalidate its patents. Mr. Mueller predicts the preemptive strikes against Lodsys will likely be consolidated into one.

Yesterday, New York luminary Chris Dixon tweeted, “The tech world should be more outraged by the ridiculousness of the Lodsys case,” along with a link to his analysis of a lawsuit Lodsys filed last week against online retailers like Best Buy and Adidas. As Dixon points out, Lodsys’ seemingly ludicrous claim refers to a patent filed in 1997 that “allows users to give feedback to websites.” (Uh-oh, is Betabeat in violation? Let us know in the comments)

In response, Silicon Valley investor Paul Kedrosky tweeted at Mr. Dixon:

@cdixon The outrage of the tech world, while understandable, is irrelevant here. The U.S. patent system is dangerously broken.”

Mr. Dixon tweeted back:

@pkedrosky i agree (and have blogged/tweeted about many times before). just seems like one of those cases that highlights the absurdity.”

Mr. Kedrosky’s response?

@cdixon No question. Our one-size-fits-all patent system is being gamed by cynics & opportunists, and that is not being recognized.

But those two aren’t the only tech heavyweights to criticize patents and their stranglehold on innovation. The day after Lodsys first suit, Fred Wilson blogged:

The mess around the Lodsys patents should be a wake up call to everyone involved in the patent business (government bureaucrats, legislators, lawyers, investors, entrepreneurs, etc) that the system is totally broken and we can’t continue to go on like this.

If the feds really want to help tech companies, maybe they can take their eyes off the secondary markets for a minute to address the trolls crawling around their patent system.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com