Making a new home for patent trolls

· by Steve · Read in about 4 min · (767 Words)

I live on an island that often gets bad press for being a ‘tax haven’. Those in the local financial services industry don’t like that term of course, pointing out how standards-compliant the finance industry is, and how many information exchange agreements we have with other countries (the line ‘the lady doth protest too much’ bubbles to the surface in some people’s minds I’m sure at this stage). So, we’re not technically a tax haven according to the OECD definition, but we’re certainly a place for people to stash their money and avoid paying tax on the income they derive from it in the juristictions in which they live. There’s no getting around the wider political debates about whether that’s a morally respectable position to take, particularly that the reason taxes can be so low is that the state doesn’t have to pay for defense, which is sponged from the UK government, provides precious little in the way of healthcare, and generally takes a right-wing policy route that seems to actively promote social division, but let’s leave that for the moment. Obviously being somewhat of a left-leaner I find it all slightly distasteful and am quite grateful my career path has so far kept me doing other things. I don’t deride people for choosing to be involved in that business - it’s their choice, and certainly it pays better than most of the alternatives in a small locality, but for a little while now (certainly since developing my own political opinions rather than inheriting them from the community around me) I’ve felt much better to be ‘aligned’ with the goals of whatever organisation I’m spending my working time with. Seems to me that we spend so much of our lives working, it probably ought to be for something we actually believe in, and I personally can’t say I have any significant motivation to help people avoid paying tax. While I can, I’ll keep doing other things, although increasingly our local government doesn’t seem very interested in seriously promoting much else.

However, I have been dismayed with one of the latest developments locally which are supposedly ‘branching out’ beyond financial services, because it’s actually worse - our IP law has been revised now so that patents from any juristiction can be re-registered locally to obtain the same protection (previously, it only applied to IP registered in the UKĀ  I believe). Simple enough, except that articles in our local news have been chest-beating about it specifically with reference to the fact that now, patents that wouldn’t be valid in the UK can now be registered, so long as they are valid in another juristiction - and in particular they singled out business method patents as registered in the US, which are currently not allowed in the UK. They’re happy that ‘asset holders’ can now ‘bolster their protection’ by re-registering their ‘IP’ even though the UK would have thrown it out as worthless.

Ugh. One of the things I was proud about in the UK is that bullshit patents on business methods weren’t valid. I was happy that total nonsense like the Amazon 1-Click patent and it’s ilk were deemed not to be valid inventions, for they are widely acknowledged to suppress innovation and play directly into the hands of patent trolls. The world is blighted by people who register widely known techniques as patents with a registrar who is so ignorant and/or compromised by conflicting interests that they’re incapable of acknowledging the prior art, and an entire industry wastes precious resources either fighting patent spam, or building their own equally rancid pile of patents as a self-defense mechanism, all instead of actually inventing significant things, or you know, making great products that stand up in their own right. If even half the time that went into the overheads of establishing, debating, licensing and fighting low-brow, pointless patents was spent on the creative process, who knows how much we’d actually advance the human race. Instead, that effort gets spent on lawyers instead - it’s no wonder that the people lauding these ‘advances’ are from that particular profession.

At a time when everyone else, even big companies like Microsoft in the US, are recognising that software / business method patents are proving corrosive to the industry, locally our law makers are puffing themselves up over having allowed such nonsense to happen here too.

But hey, it’ll make a quick buck, both for the registrar and for our local legal firms, so it’s ok right? Favouring the financially convenient over the holistically respectable seems a common line around here. I despair sometimes.