There is little doubt that the Ford Motor Company has a raft of exciting new products that will are available today or will hit the market in the near to medium future. But behind the scenes, the automaker is having a heck of a time with a far different problem: patent trolls.
Patent trolls are kind of like that jerk you knew in grade school. He’d occupy the swings and just sit there until you came along and wanted to use them. Patent trolls are the business equivalent; they buy up patents left and right, but unlike like an automaker or any actual company, do not actually make, sell, or otherwise create products. They just sit on the patent until companies like Ford mistakenly (or not) step on a piece of their patented pie.
Once this happens the patent trolls, also known as patent assertion companies, initiate lawsuits and generate billions in licensing fees and court judgements. These “companies” argue, perhaps rightly, that patents are extremely valuable assets and automakers, such as Ford, are infringing on their intellectual property. And this is no one time gambit: Ford has been sued more than a dozen times for patent infringement between 2012 and 2014. In total, patent assertion companies filed 107 lawsuits against automakers in 2014, up from just 17 in 2009.
As Automotive News reports, Ford has finally had enough of the trolls and has decided to hire a company called RPX Corp to help fend them off. RPX has spent over $1 billion amassing patents for tech companies like Samsung and Microsoft and for a mere $1.5 million, companies like Ford can climb aboard and access their suite of shared patents.
“It was historically easier to apply for a patent on software than on a manufacturing process or a physical device, so there are more of these patents to be used as ammunition in a court case”, said Robert Resis, a Chicago-based patent attorney at Banner & Witcoff, to AN.
And as automakers continue to build increasing amounts of technology into every vehicle they make, it seems like a natural step for them to partner with a firm like RPX to protect themselves against the trolls. That is, until the United States patent system receives a healthy overhaul.