Ethics and morality, too little enforcement and too much regulation.

I was thinking about Zusha Elinson’s “New Business Targeting Patent Trolls Signs IBM and Cisco” article in which he discusses how RPX Corp appears to have the business model of aggregating patent assets (likely relevant to their members) “off the street” so that patent trolls cannot get to the assets first and enforce them against their members. Additionally, the article discusses how the company is buying NOT to enforce their patents against their members.

The issue here is two-fold: 1) whether RPX can control itself regarding costs to its own members and not become a mafia-type of organization extorting funds from corporations who have the choice of “join or be sued,” and 2) what RPX will do to companies who choose NOT to join their organization.

As per the question of whether RPX can control itself internally, I see from looking at Wall Street that companies do not and can not control themselves when there is opportunity to get away with an abuse. It reminds me of the old “moral versus legal” discussion I used to have in law school about whether one should be permitted to do something immoral and wrong even though it is not illegal, and whether all immoral activities should be illegal (obviously the answer is no — when there too much control, wrongdoers surface and look to find loopholes in the system, and the question becomes only whether something is legal versus whether it is moral.) With the over-regulation and under-enforcement by the federal regulators, my opinion is that there are few controls and risks for companies who violate laws and it is simply too costly to enforce the laws against those companies breaking them. Thus, people do what they can to make a profit and their conscience has no part in the equation. My opinion about this issue is that government must cut down on the regulations and must stop over-regulating, but MUST significantly increase their enforcement of rules that are on the books.

Similarly with regard to RPX’s activities towards companies that choose not to be part of their posse, the danger is that a for-profit organization has a profit motive, and often the ability to grow profits will overtake ethical considerations such as fairness and morality, as discussed above. A company infringing a patent soon-to-be-owned by RPX obviously should either 1) take a license, or 2) get sued for patent infringement. However, my question is more about questionable bullying practices which are likely to occur as soon as a for-profit organization has muscle.

I have read on the web about some questionable litigation tactics where abuses of the legal system force a company take licenses when they are not necessarily infringing the patents being asserted against them. The reason here is that the cost of litigation ends up being HIGHER than settling and taking a license to the assets even though the company is not infringing them. This is a serious abuse and is something that should be addressed in the form of legislation and/or regulation.


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