I just finished reading this post by Brad Burnham and its echoes by Fred Wilson and Brad Feld about patent trolling and its effects on startups. I can understand and sympathize with the problem they are facing but I wonder if there is another older pattern at work.
A few years ago when I was closer to startup dynamics it was not uncommon for founders to pursue (often prohibitively expensive and often useless) patents, often primarily to cater to investors expectations (“investors like to see patents to secure their investment”). I also encountered patent based startups that were created as patent-traps with no other substantial offering (their financial models were based primarily on expected legal expenses).
I see an irony when business people explain that patents were originally intended to protect inventors and the very idea of innovation. Why was protection needed in the first place? I doubt it was from other innovators or society at large, I have a feeling (no historical research to back it up) it was mostly from businesses (run by businessmen who wanted to make a profit) who did not have any qualms about exploiting innovation without recognizing and supporting innovators. I don’t think we live in a world where businesses would line up of their own free will to recognize and adequately (I don’t want to push for generously) compensate inventors even in cases where it is obviously due.
When I look at the USV portfolio I see some companies that I feel have substantial purpose and potential impact that go beyond making healthy profits for their investors. I also see companies that I feel have no or misplaced purpose, regardless of potential future profits for investors. I am curious to know which companies in the USV portfolio are suffering from abusive patent prosecution – and I am curious to see if there is any correlation between that and their purposes.
It can (and usually does) take time for true nature to reveal her-tself – things that appear to be “good” can morph into “bad” and then back to “good” and on and on. We do not control the consequences of our actions. We do control our intents and they will resonate strong and far. If you play in a game where your objective is to use money to make more money, you should expect to meet like-minded people, even when you don’t like it. If you don’t like yet, you can consider changing the game.
I do not feel that I have the credibility to say this – so I am happy to quote an interesting, established and inspiring source: