Having interacted with a lot of lawyers in the past three years, I’ll go out on a limb most lawyers really do act nobly in this profession. Maybe I’ve just hung out in good neighborhoods, but the vast majority of lawyers that I’ve met are concerned with being professional, doing a thorough job, and being highly ethical.
If you’re around enough the law though, you also see some of the dark side. After all, the law is a business, and shady not-quite-ethical things happen all the time in any business.
Since I work at a non-profit where we’re unconcerned with making money from the people who contact us, we can advise people to act in a way that generally works toward the greater good. For the clients who have questionable agendas (which is a higher percentage than you’d think), we can tell them politely to find someone else to do their dirty work.
Most lawyers don’t have that privileged though. They have to pay their bills, so free from any sort of do-gooder-moral-compass, they do the economically rational thing and take the work given to them. Since lawyers are mostly just the arms, legs, and mouths of their clients, the general public might not realize that a scummy client can give an otherwise decent lawyer a bad name.
Patent and copyright trolling is part of that dark side of the law, and the companies that do the trolling are just that kind of scummy client who can pay a lawyer handsomely to help spread misery and ruin small businesses in the name of “protecting intellectual property.”
IP lawyers should make peace with what they do when they choose to work with trolls. Prey on the weak. Stifle innovation. Lose your soul. Cash your paycheck. Feed your family.
Trolls go after the smaller companies first. They pick on startups because undercapitalized small companies cannot afford to be ideological. When faced with the prospect of extensive legal fees and a huge distraction, they do the pragmatic thing – they settle. The troll can accept less from a startup because the troll can later argue the startup has a small market share and a limited ability to pay. A smaller settlement does not preclude larger settlements with bigger players later. In a side note, one troll accepted services from our portfolio company in lieu of cash because the troll could not technically do the thing that our company was accused of copying so we are providing them with the capability. The irony there kills me. It feels a little like being forced to dig your own grave before being shot.
The trolls then use the money extorted from young startups to fund the more expensive and ambitious cases against larger more established companies with deeper pockets. These folks have more to lose but they also have more resources to defend themselves. I don’t often think about the plight of large companies but this attack has a direct impact on young companies.
via Union Square Ventures