Universities band together to form a patent troll

Joe Mullin writes:

Despite the explosion in university patenting and the growth of technology transfer offices (essentially university patent offices), the great majority of universities lose money on their patents. A 2013 Brookings Institute study showed that 84% of universities didn’t make enough money from their patents to cover the related legal costs and the staffing of their tech transfer office. Just a tiny slice of universities earn the majority of patent-licensing revenue, often from a few blockbuster pharmaceutical or biotech inventions. As many as 95% of university patents do not get licensed at all.  

This new university patent licensing company won’t be getting any of the small number of impressive revenue-producing patents. The proposal sent to the UC Board of Regents explains that the LLC’s goal will be to get payment for patents that “have not been successfully licensed via a bilateral ‘one patent, one license’ transaction.” The universities’ proposal is to start by licensing in three areas: autonomous vehicles, “Internet of Things,” and Big Data

(emphasis mine)

I don’t understand the complexities of patent laws (and it’s interpretation). I don’t necessarily agree with the idea of having a patent troll at the “public expense”, but having patents on software is a surefire recipe for disaster, as it would impede the “innovation”. Spin-offs are extremely difficult to monetise. A “breakthrough research” or idea can make or break the researcher’s career, and the good luck must align with many incentives – tenure+funding committees+publication+acceptance and trials followed by commercialisation. If you look at the chain, failure can happen at any link of the chain.

Here’s the proposal:

The real goal seems to be finding alleged infringers, accusing them, and raising money. The targets will know that they’re not being offered an opportunity—they’ll be under attack. That’s why the lawyers working with UC have promised the Regents that when it comes time to launch lawsuits against one of the “pre-determined targets,” they will steer clear of small businesses.

The problem is once the Universities pool in their resources to “fight the abuse of the patents”, I am likely to witness a PR war (primarily a perception battle). Stories around how public funded research fuels innovation will abound. My concern is related to AI and algorithms that will be locked up in patents and it would require payments to owners to test them out in the “wild”. It will raise the stakes for everyone involved.

I too have been at the receiving end – once accepted by the PI for a PhD in a university that hits the top rankings in North America, we couldn’t precisely agree with the idea of monetising my innovation with a clear commercial path, even though I was getting everything on the table. I realised that I am a small fry on the other side of the table- the negotiations fell through. Nevertheless, I haven’t given up my idea!