Beware of Giants and Trolls!: Why legal counsel may now be a critical resource for technology projects in North America


David L. Pells

Managing Editor, PMWJ

Texas, USA


It occurred to me that this might be a good time to discuss a frightening trend occurring in the business world, at least in North America, that could have serious ramifications for programs and projects in many industries.  That trend is the accumulation of patents by giant corporations, the growth of the patent troll industry and the rapid increase in patent infringement lawsuits.  The risk of lawsuits related to many technologies that many of us take for granted, and are used in many organizations and on projects, is increasing rapidly.  The need for legal counsel on project and program teams is now also on the rise.  Beware of the giants and trolls!  It’s getting dangerous out there.

Moving Giants – the Patent Wars

Large technology companies seem to be at war, and they are amassing vast arsenals of patents and lawyers as their weapons of choice.  The media in the USA are calling it the “patent wars”.

According to the Wall Street Journal in August, Google paid $12.5 billion earlier this year for Motorola’s U.S. smartphone business and its 17,000 patents. This is $12.5 billion that one of America’s most creative companies will not use to innovate, fund research or hire anyone beside patent lawyers (or to fund projects).  The value of patents in software and hardware such as smart phones has everything to do with litigation risk. It has almost nothing to do with technology.

According to Google’s chief lawyer, “A smart phone might involve as many as 250,000 patent claims that are largely questionable”. The arbitrariness of patent grants means mobile-phone operators are inevitably infringing patents, risking billions in infringement lawsuits, but they have no way to know which broad patents will be upheld and which rejected. The best and maybe only defense is a good offense.

On October 17, ft.com published a fascinating graphic that shows the lawsuits filed by giant corporations against their rivals in the so called “patent war” that is now underway.  Those companies include Apple, Barnes & Noble, Erickson, Google, HTC, LG, Huawei, Kodak, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Oracle, Qualcomm, Research in Motion, Samsung, Sony, and several others.

According to Bloomberg on October 28, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the nation’s top patent court, recently reached a decision that will have breathtaking ramifications: scientific research methods per se can be patented for a field of research. This decision promises to accelerate the flood of patent litigation. Classen sued Biogen and GlaxoSmithKline. This case is but one example of patents discouraging further research and innovation. It is not hard to imagine the kind of chaos that might emerge if engineers, scientific researchers, medical providers, and computer programmers were sued for making use of standard methods of scientific discovery. Since the mid-1990s the patent court has been pushing the boundaries for patents beyond technology, issuing patents for relatively abstract processes of practicing medicine, conducting business, and performing mathematical analyses. Patent litigation has tripled as a result.

According to Laura Sydell at NPR, “Some call it an international patent arms race: Tech companies like Apple, Samsung, Nokia and Google are launching lawsuits over competing patent claims related to smartphones and tablets. But those clashes don’t affect only the tech giants. There are a variety of ways in which this is also being used to stop the next cool thing from happening. Because you can just try and sue not only a big company — but maybe a small company that’s coming in to compete in your market with some new, cool idea. The patent wars aren’t likely to end anytime soon.”


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About the Author

david-pellsDAVID PELLSflag-usa 

Managing Editor, PMWJ

David L. Pells is Managing Editor of the PM World Journal, a global eJournal for program and project management, and Executive Director of the PM World Library. David is an internationally recognized leader in the field of professional project management with more than 35 years of experience on a variety of programs and projects, including energy, engineering, construction, defense, transit, high technology and nuclear security, and project sizes ranging from several thousand to ten billion dollars. He has been an active professional leader in the United States since the 1980s, serving on the board of directors of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) twice.  He was founder and chair of the Global Project Management Forum (1995-2000), an annual meeting of leaders of PM associations from around the world. David was awarded PMI’s Person of the Year award in 1998 and Fellow Award, PMI’s highest honor, in 1999.He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK; Project Management Associates (PMA – India); and Russian Project Management Association SOVNET.  From June 2006 until March 2012, he was the managing editor of the globally acclaimed PM World Today eJournal.  He occasionally provides high level advisory support for major programs and global organizations.  David has published widely, spoken at conferences and events worldwide, and can be contacted at[email protected].

For more, visit www.pmworldjournal.net and www.pmworldlibrary.net.

To see more works by David Pells, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/david-l-pells/.

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  If you have a good paper, previously published but for which you control the copyright, and would like to have it republished in the PMWJ, contact [email protected]