Have you ever scanned in a document and then emailed it? If some patent trolls have their way you owe them $1,000 for violating their patent.
If you are not familiar with patent trolls and how the patent system is stifling innovation then it is time to pay attention. In this case MPHJ Technologies is shaking down businesses for violating their patent to send electronic documents. The original patents should not have been issued because they were overly broad.
Think of the first person who came to a river. They could forge the river or put something over it to cross and stay dry. It seems like an obvious solution. But in this case the person goes to the patent office and gets a patent for the idea of a bridge. The system is so dysfunctional that they are given the patent.
Now the patent is bought, sold and packaged for a patent troll. They hire lawyers and take on the task of suing everyone they can find with any money. In our scenario they would contact every city, town, and hamlet with a demand letter for payment. Many will settle just to be done with the matter and avoid legal fees. It is a shake down scheme that nets a lot of money.
The real problem with patent trolls is they are slowing down innovation. The patents are so overly vague and obvious that it is impossible not to infringe on someone’s patent. Imagine someone owning the idea of using material to cross a span. No one would invest the time in building or designing better bridges.
For a more detailed description I would recommend this episode of This American Life. They cover the shady world of patent trolls and their control of a West Texas court system. The risk is every business paying $1,000 per employee because they may have scanned in a document and then sent it by email.