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.