Copyright and trade mark trolls?
Patent trolls are old news. How about other forms of intellectual property?
Danwei recently posted an item about a Chinese man, Zhan Qizhi who has systematically acquired copyrights and then asserted them against at least 300 websites. (Sounds like troll activity, but he does own a publishing house which he says has been hurt by the alleged infringements.)
Raises an interesting question though. To what extent could one buy up and assert other IP rights in a ‘troll’ like manner.
It’s been often said that most IP value is in brands and trade marks – why haven’t they been the subject of troll activity to date? Probably because of the way they work. Their value is underpinned by the goods or services that they are associated with. So, you can’t just acquire a trade mark and expect it to maintain value without also continuing to supply the goods or services. If there are no goods or services, then there’s probably little value in the trade mark, and the damages will be low to non-existent.
A ‘troll’ may be able to get some piece of the enforcement action by agreeing to take the risk of enforcement activity in return for a share of the damages award. This is already happening with contingency law firms and IP insurance. Then there’s IBM’s new business method patent under which you can pay for the right to use another’s intellectual property in the future should you need it (mostly in a counter suit and almost exclusively in patents).
So, trade marks are tough – but I don’t think impossible.
Copyrights are more likely to work as they don’t have the problems that trade marks do. The question is why would the copyright owner want to sell their rights rather than enforce them? It’s usually about risk – the acquirer (‘troll’) is happy to take more risk and the chance at a large return. If that’s correct, then in what situations would copyright infringement be sufficiently widespread to generate the returns? The online environment and software seem to be prime candidates.
What do you think?