Patent Trolls: Another Cost of Doing Business

Copyright law, the Internet, and the nature of intellectual property and ownership have been the subject of much discussion lately. Yahoo‘s latest salvo has made the evergreen subject shine that much more brightly.

An episode of This American Life from last summer is a great primer on the issue of patent enforcement–or patent trolling, as it’s called when the goal of the legal action seems to be something other than genuine, altruistic interest in the financial rewarding of inventors and innovators.

That slur is being flung at Yahoo today. PaidContent has a rundown of Facebook‘s alleged violations of Yahoo’s patents, complete with attempts to translate legalese into familiar Facebook features. Defending their rights to the sometimes vague descriptions of proprietary customization and communication will certainly become muddier considering their alliance with Facebook that dates back to 2010.

Is this a new, expected cost of doing business? It’s beginning to look that way. Internet Retailer reports today that patent defense costs surged by 22 percent between 2010 and 2011, racking up $1.9 billion in settlements and fees last year.

Some businesses have started to consider it a cost of business, figuring that a few patent trolls will lurk under the bridges of innovation. But since Facebook recently filed for an initial public offering, it has extra incentive to settle this issue. It wouldn’t be the first time Yahoo’s sense of timing has raised eyebrows–and funds. Where the line is ultimately drawn in this lawsuit will have lasting effects on content and how social interaction affects its customization.

Read the full story at

Let's work together.