Don Marti

Thu 26 Feb 2009 02:04:59 PM PST

Patent lawyers on the loose?

Let's not get too fired up about the potential benefits to open source from the economic downturn. There is one potentially scary impact, too.

Red Hat patent counsel Rob Tiller, in his talk on the Bilski decision at SCALE, said that software patent applications are down over the past 18-24 months. What are all those software patent lawyers up to? Catching up on home and garden tasks? Spending more time with their families? Taking Continuing Legal Education classes to learn to represent victims of mortgage fraud? Not likely. Meanwhile, more lawyers are moving away from the "billable hour" business model.

So with fewer patent applications to work on, and more flexibility on how to get paid, are we going to see more patent trolling? Is the Microsoft suit against TomTom just the first in a series of cases brought on by an excess of lawyer time? Maybe we need something like the "Sons of Iraq" for patent lawyers: take potential trolls and put them to work on something useful.