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GNOME is fighting off patent trolls

Currently the GNOME Foundation is fighting off patent trolls, in the first high-profile case where a patent troll has pursued an OSS project.

For the folks at home, patent trolling is a term used to describe rent-seeking via the weaponization of patents: the patent troll acquires an extremely broad or vague patent, either by filing for it or purchasing it, and then churns out letters threatening litigation against companies that “infringe” on it.

In order for the litigation to go away, the alleged infringer needs to pay a settlement or “licensing fee” to the troll. The licensing fee is built to be a significant cost, but much, much less than the cost of fighting the lawsuit. According to the EFF, the average cost of a patent trolling lawsuit is nearly $2 million, so licensing fees in the $10-100 thousand range are common. In 2011 alone, it is estimated that there was $29 billion spent on the direct costs of patent trolling, either fighting patent trolling lawsuits in court or paying off the trolls.

Because fighting the lawsuit is much more expensive than just giving in to the troll’s demands (and most companies don’t have the resources required to do so), almost all victims end up acquiescing to the troll and paying the licensing fee.

Rather than giving in to the trolls in this case (“Rothschild Patent Imaging”), GNOME is trying to send the message that OSS projects are bad patent-trolling targets, by filing to have the patent invalidated. You can read more about the case on the GNOME blog here.

If you’d like to donate to the patent defense fund, the GNOME Patent Troll Defense Fund is here.