Perhaps tired of being in the news all the time as it sues every company with a lock screen or a modern touch-based OS, Apple appears to have done something quite terrible this time around.
The firm has, slowly but surely, been transferring patents over to Patent Troll, Digitude. Digitude chairman, Robert Kramer, claims that "Digitude is a new kind of patent investment vehicle because it seeks to team up with strategic players that can invest not with money, but by contributing patents. The contributing entity would then get a license for all of Digitude's patents." Sounds like a good plan but where do we draw the line? Can this writer offer up his patent for a bendy fork and expect to receive access to the firm's entire patent portfolio? It seems rather unlikely and the same reality will ring true for any smaller firm, as Digitude grows, so too does its only possible business plan become increasingly transparent, which is to collect lots of patents, sue businesses or force them to licence an increasingly large number of patents and take commission on the value of those patents. As opposed to Patent Troll, perhaps Patent Succubus better describes the nature of such a company.
The firm's initial investment came from Altitude Capital, a group that itself claims to specialise in the "valuation and enforcement of intellectual property rights," at least with Altitude, as a traditional Patent Trolling group, it should have been possible for smaller firms with strong patents to seek Altitude's investment, so to speak, enabling these firms to enforce their patent rights against larger companies; though in practise, as with most Trolls, the group tends to actively seek out patents it knows can be used to stir up trouble and turn a profit.
Surely enough, less than two years since its founding and now with Apple as an active licensee with potential investment links, providing the much needed patent fuel, Digitude has filed a suit with the International Trade Commission, ITC, alleging patent infringement by RIM, HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sony, Amazon and Nokia. The ITC is a good starting point as it has the power to enforce embargoes on products long before disputes are settled. Should Digitude win such a case or provide sufficient intimidation, it will gain either the money or patent contributions necessary to continue the whole process all over again.
As the scale of damages, fees and settlements increases, as products are threatened with import restrictions and Patent Trolls continue to drain money from other industries, despite any claimed intentions of good will, the end result is likely only to bring harm to the end consumer. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this writer appeals for a more sensible approach to patents, with note to the US but also to the world-wide community as a whole.