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Grocery trolls and civil liberties

People have been asking me lately what I think about those organizations that buy up patents and license them or sue infringers. Kindly known as non-practicing entities (NPEs), patent licensors, or patent aggregators, they are disparagingly called “patent trolls.” However, there is a much more troubling entity out there that I want to bring to your attention-the grocery trolls.

Grocery trolls produce no fruits, vegetables, or produce of any kind. They do not own farm land, they do not raise livestock. They do not harvest grains. Instead, they buy up the food items produced by small, independent farmers, and sometime large farm corporations, and force hungry consumers to buy them at higher prices. These greedy grocery trolls, going by benign names like Safeway, Lucky’s, Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, and Trader Joe’s have no farming skills whatsoever. And the consequences of not buying food from them? Starvation!

Patent licensors perform the same kind of service by buying up inventions from inventors and offering them for sale. The strength of their size, their sales force, their marketing budget, and their distribution channels ensures that they will be able to buy from small entities and sell to large and small entities and make a profit by charging for their services. Groceries buy from small farmers who could not otherwise reach large markets. Patent licensors buy from small inventors who cannot afford to license their inventions to other companies.

The analogy isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty darned good. Free commerce in a free society means that you or I can sell anything we like to anyone we please; there are no restrictions on having created the good in the first place. If that were the case, most transactions would be illegal. You wouldn’t be able to sell your house or buy a used car. You wouldn’t be able to trade baseball cards or collect antiques. The list is very long. That’s why restrictions on the sale of patents must never be allowed in any free market economy. Restricting the sale of any goods would be a curtailing of civil rights-an extremely dangerous precedent-and anyone who believes in civil liberties should be absolutely against such restrictions.

Comments

Comment from Genevieve
Time September 26, 2011 at 9:06 pm

“That’s why restrictions on the sale of patents must never be allowed in any free market economy” –

I do agree Bob, and NPE are playing a role as broker in a non-transparent market. But what about the opportunity for all my grocery producers to upload their production online transparently and sell directly to the consumer? (Community supported Agriculture does already use this model from producer to consumer. ) Grocery Trolls such as Safeway or Walmart for sure provide a wider channel for commerce but do they promote the best quality product for the end-user?

In a similar way, Patent Trolls provide professional channel handling and patent-related transaction but do they encourage the usage of top innovation when they sue for infringement?

Comment from zeidman
Time September 27, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Hi Genevieve. I definitely believe in transparent markets and competition, so any other means for selling or licensing patents seems good to me, even if it cuts out the middleman.

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