Congress has been trying to pass “patent reforms” that will stop “patent trolls.”

Unfortunately, there’s a hidden agenda behind these “reforms.”


There definitely are some bad apples out there – people who send spam demand letters based on questionable infringement of dubious patents. People like that are scam artists and should be shut down, and the FTC and state attorneys general are already working on that.

The problem is that big tech companies like Google and Cisco are using these few scam artists as “poster children” to support legislation that has virtually no connection to such abusive practices.

A non-practicing entity (NPE) is a company that doesn’t manufacture products using the technologies it invents or acquires. To some people, NPE is synonymous with “patent troll.”

But many of America’s greatest inventors were NPEs.

Thomas Edison, beloved as America’s most important single inventor -- the man who invented the light bulb, phonograph, and movie camera -- licensed the vast majority of his patents. He only actually built products based on a small percentage of his patents. Was he a “troll” who deserved to be put out of business?

If you’re a small company or individual and a large company stole your inventions, without strong patent protection there’d be nothing you could do about it.

My own story is illustrative.

Back in the late ‘90s I realized that data security was going be very important to the future of WiFi. The inherent vulnerability of transmitting data through a radio that anyone could intercept meant that the connections needed to be secure. 

I came up with the idea that using simple DES encryption with a dynamically changing key would provide a superior level of security -- without overburdening the link or the equipment with excessive overhead traffic.

I invested several years of effort and many thousands of dollars in refining the technology, which led to four patents in dynamic encryption and secure communications.

The “experts” scoffed at my technology. They said it wasn’t needed. They claimed standard 256-bit encryption would be enough to secure WiFi communications for the foreseeable future.

Turns out the experts were a little shortsighted. Within a decade, the “experts” were saying dynamic encryption was the way to go.

I naively assumed the industry leaders would be interested in licensing my patents. Instead they incorporated my technology into a new standard for WiFi data encryption called “Temporal Key Integrity Protocol” (TKIP), which evolved into, WPA, and various derivatives. They ignored or rebuffed my requests to discuss licensing my patents.

What now? How could I, an individual inventor, sue companies like Apple, Dell, or Intel for infringing my patents? How could I stop them from stealing my intellectual property?

I tried to find a law firm that would take the case on a contingency basis. No luck.

I tried selling the patents at auction. It didn’t work. 

I got a low-ball offer from one patent-based business. That was it.

I was feeling pretty discouraged by the time I found IPNav. IPNav saw the value in my patents, and they had the money and expertise to enforce my rights. Within four months I was receiving compensation for my patents.

This is what the big tech companies want to stop. They don’t want to have to pay inventors like me for using our intellectual property.  They’d rather act like lunchroom bullies, stealing the wimpy kid’s lunch money with impunity.

They claim “patent trolls” use “weak patents” to exert a “tax on technology.” That’s a BS reason for reform, in my opinion.

If my patents were weak, they never would have stood up to challenge in court. And the America Invents Act introduced new procedures at the patent office that make it even easier and cheaper to kill weak patents.

Big companies don’t want to kill weak patents. They want to steal strong ones.

Some proposed “reforms” would make it harder for inventors like me to work with companies like IPNav.

Patent monetization firms level the playing field. They give small companies and individuals access to the millions of dollars needed to enforce their intellectual property rights.

Of course the big guys don’t want that kind of competition. But they’re being shortsighted.

Tech giants spend more on acquisition than they do on R&D.  They purchase start-ups and young companies in order to obtain their technology.

Patent reform could turn out to be “killing the goose that laid the golden egg.” Without strong patent protection, start-ups won’t be able to raise the venture capital needed to develop those great ideas that the big companies love to buy.

I have great ideas on how to make our communications more secure.  But I don’t have the know-how to actually build WiFi equipment, and even if I did I wouldn’t be able to compete with the much bigger companies that already make it.

Why shouldn’t the public benefit from my ideas even if I don’t have the resources to build and run a factory?

No one says all architects have to also be contractors – let alone carpenters – and build the buildings they design. So why should inventors be expected to produce all their own inventions – and be penalized if they don’t?

America’s standing in the world economy largely derives from our position as the innovation leader for the planet.

Many important inventions weren’t made by bureaucratic corporate giants. They were made by small businesses and individual inventors – like me.

America has the strongest patent system in the world, and it’s served us very well.

There’s an old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I encourage Congress not to “fix” the patent system.

Fielder is the founder of PACid Technologies, a data security company. His vision is a day when data breaches are a thing of the past.