“Patent Trolls,” that is to say corporations whose sole business is acquiring patents and then suing (or threatening to sue and instead settling, ideally) people who arguably infringe those patents, are coming under a lot of fire lately. There are a couple of bills bouncing around Congress that are designed to rein them in (see this Ars Technica article for details).
But the fundamental problem isn’t patent trolls. It’s patents. If software patents made sense, then it’s just ordinary specialization of talent to hire a middleman (a “troll”) to handle the litigation on your behalf. And there are plenty of practicing technology companies whose use of their patent portfolio has been plenty objectionable without any intrusion of trolls. Obvious offenders include Apple, and now hilariously Microsoft has sued a patent troll that it previously licensed its patents to. Honestly, there’s no big software company that hasn’t been at least dodgy in its use of patents, including otherwise excellent companies like Amazon.
Patent trolls are the symptom. The disease is an out-of-control patent system that allows any dumb-ass idea someone has to be patented, and then makes the cost of fighting baseless infringement claims very high. There’s essentially no reason for software patents.