The Rise of the Patent Troll: An Animated Primer by Kirby Ferguson

Recent­ly, I’ve been spend­ing time inves­ti­gat­ing copy­rights, keen to find out if it’s crick­et for me to impose my vision on cer­tain authors’ long ago work. An author myself, I freely admit, I might not cot­ton to it were some stranger to have her way with my work, with­out per­mis­sion, on a stage, for all to see! Either way, I’d pre­fer things to be set­tled with­out a law­suit.

My head was so full of copy­right impli­ca­tions and loop­holes, I was unaware that a par­al­lel sit­u­a­tion was blow­ing up beyond all rea­son in the world of patents. Such igno­rance is a lux­u­ry unavail­able to legions of small soft­ware design­ers, pod­cast­ers, and small busi­ness own­ers, as artist and film­mak­er Kir­by Fer­gu­son of “Every­thing is a Remix” fame makes clear in his ani­mat­ed primer, “Rise of the Patent Troll.”

The prob­lem, he says, owes to a gap between cen­turies old patent law and a new tech­nol­o­gy that yields “inven­tions” whose parts can’t be attrib­uted as eas­i­ly as your aver­age sewing machine’s or cot­ton gin’s.

Depict­ed here as hairy, pointy-eared sto­ry­book fig­ures, the real life bad­dies are much more scary—newly formed cor­po­rate enti­ties oppor­tunis­ti­cal­ly seek­ing to enforce patents for dig­i­tal inno­va­tions they don’t real­ly own. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, they’re tar­get­ing the lit­tle guys, indi­vid­u­als who don’t have the resources to defend them­selves when attacked. Yes, in this con­text, a fair­ly renowned come­di­an can be con­sid­ered a lit­tle guy.

Fer­gu­son joined forces with dig­i­tal watch­dogs Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion, Pub­lic Knowl­edge, and Engine to make the film, but the prob­lem proves too slip­pery to ful­ly explore in three ani­mat­ed min­utes. I think the car­toon is actu­al­ly bait, to get view­ers like me to sit still for the next three min­utes, in which the artist turns the cam­era on him­self, to enu­mer­ate what cit­i­zens can do to make a pro­posed patent reform bill stick. If it all feels rather urgent, I’m guess­ing there’s a rea­son.

For more back­ground on what patent trolls are all about, don’t miss this episode of This Amer­i­can Life.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Film­mak­er Kir­by Fer­gu­son Explains How Apple’s iPhone Was A Remixed Cre­ation

Ayun Hal­l­i­day would freak worse than a goat if one of these trolls came after her. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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