About “Letters Patent”

This newsletter is a weekly exploration of U.S. patent disputes. I’m particularly interested in cases filed by non-practicing entities, also known as “patent trolls.” But this newsletter isn’t just about one particular type of case. I’ll cover whatever I find interesting in the bizarre and poorly understood world of patents.

Letters Patent is written by me, Joe Mullin. I’ve been writing about patents as a journalist and an activist in various venues for 13 years now. I’m not a lawyer—I’m a concerned citizen. I strive to contribute to the existence of a truthful public record about patents and innovation. We need a strong democratic debate about how our patent system functions, not just myths created by those invested in the current system.

I’ll always strive to be accurate, and fair to all sides in this debate. However, I also want to be clear about where I’m coming from—when patent owners claim infringement and demand royalty payments, in most cases, my personal views will align with the accused. This is a conclusion I reached on my own after many years spent reading court records, digging into the cases, and talking to experts on both sides. Today, I think our patent system is badly in need of reform. I’ve come to believe that software and business method patents in particular have done terrible damage to our economy, and to our very concept of invention.

We don’t need more journalism that uncritically re-prints press releases explaining that aggressive patent owners are simply “defending their property.” That’s been happening for years, and the problem has gotten worse. We need journalism that explores who is making money from patents, and how.

Historically, letters patent were an open letter from a monarch or government, granting a monopoly or privilege of some type to a person or group of people. The letters patent could be for a political office or a monopoly on some trade, and some letters patent would give exclusive rights to inventors. That final type of “letters patent” grew into our modern patent system.

My own “Letters Patent” will be quite different, of course. I’ll hope to create a more open and understandable record of how patents are actually being used, or mis-used, in our society.

If you subscribe, you’ll get all newsletters in your e-mail inbox. The archives are also available here. It’s all free.

Letters Patent is a personal project by me alone, and doesn’t reflect the views of any of my employers, past, present, or future.

A Community of Patent Skeptics

The patent and IP ecosystem has plenty of blogs and legal publication, but I think there’s a real space for one that listens to the stories of patent defendants, and approaches patent owner claims with serious skepticism. Much of the legal and “IP Media” falls into a few categories. It’s either trade press dedicated to hearing out both sides and helping legal professionals be better at their jobs (which is great!), or it’s connected to selling legal research or legal defense products (also good!) or is an opinionated publication with a strong “patent maximalist” point of view (not my thing, but I’ve got no problem with it!)

So that’s all fine, but I think there’s room for something different. I don’t mind that there are pro-patent folks loudly proclaiming their point of view, and demanding that Congress, the courts, and the Patent and Trademark Office act on their behalf. That’s life in a loud democracy. But there are so many concerned citizens, lawyers, technologists, activists, and journalists who want to see a more balanced, less broken patent system. If those folks can gather and discuss, I hope to make a modest contribution in that regard as well.

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Inside Today's Patent Battles and Politics