Patent trolls are typically companies that just buy a ton of patents, sits on them and sues big companies for alleged infringement. For the most part these patents are relatively vague and general-sounding, so depending on how it is argued, a judge could ultimately rule in their favor which usually leads to companies settling over an undisclosed amount of money. Well it looks like some of the big names in the tech industry are getting a little sick over these vague patents, and companies like Google, Facebook, Dell, Zynga, Homeaway, Intuit, Rackspace and Red Hat have filed an amicus brief with the US Court of Appeals, basically asking them to no longer hold up vague patents.
Many computer-related patent claims just describe an abstract idea at a high level of generality and say to perform it on a computer or over the Internet. Such barebones claims grant exclusive rights over the abstract idea itself, with no limit on how the idea is implemented. Granting patent protection for such claims would impair, not promote, innovation by conferring exclusive rights on those who have not meaningfully innovated, and thereby penalizing those that do later innovate by blocking or taxing their applications of the abstract idea.
Surprisingly Microsoft and Apple are missing from the picture – a bit odd considering that both these companies have been targeted by patent trolls in the past. Although with Apple suing some of Google’s Android manufacturers, perhaps Apple is relying on said vague patents to score a victory. Either way we are curious to see what the US Court of Appeals will have to say about this.