Multiple things can be true at once; we can agree on the notion that patent trolls are bad, and that they and others who abuse the currently broken system of adjudicating IP law are doing considerable harm, and also concede that, in the case of some of the companies targeted by these entities, the eventual judgment (should there be one) isn’t enough to really cause them lost sleep. That’s not to say that something shouldn’t be done to curtail patent trolls and their practices, just that their actions serve to slow down some of these megacorporations not one bit.
Case in point: a recent ruling in favor of Personalized Media Communications and its FairPlay DRM in its suit against Apple over alleged patent infringement. As their name suggests, FairPlay holds several patents related to digital rights management — patents that they allege were violated by Apple when it created the iTunes Music Store.
As with many such cases, the patents in question are of dubious merit; the article notes that Apple initially won an appeal in front of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board before having that win negated in appeals court. Also familiar is the fact that Personalized Media Communications makes its bones by defending patents it holds, although the story does note that they differ from others of their ilk in that their patents are all obtained internally.
If you’ve read other stories like this, you can probably even guess the venue for the trial: the Eastern District of Texas, which has yet to see a patent case too specious for its liking. All the elements of this story are the same as countless others before it, including the outcome: many millions of dollars (in this case $308 million) into the coffers of a company that doesn’t make any products but seeks to charge a toll to those that do, provided that the ruling is upheld. (Apple, unsurprisingly, has said it will appeal.)
That’s not to valorize a company like Apple, which like any company of its size undoubtedly has sins unatoned for and skeletons occupying its Cupertino closets on its path to dominance. Nor is the plaintiff seemingly worthy of your esteem; they have cases pending against Netflix, Google and Akamai, probably for similar perceived offenses. There are probably no heroes to this particular story, but perhaps a lesson to be learned in seeing $300 million change hands and knowing that a payment of that size represents very little to a company with $195 billion in the proverbial bank.