Intellectual Asset Management: Members of the IP community who cite Bessen and Meurer to justify patent reform are clearly not interested in an honest debate, by Joff Wild
This post originally appeared in Intellectual Asset Management on November 16, 2014.
Not only are there significant questions to be asked of James Bessen and Michael Meurer about the methodologies they used and the figures they came up with in their two major papers – The Private and Social Costs of Patent Trolls (using a database supplied by Patent Freedom) and The Direct Costs of NPE Disputes (based on the results of a survey undertaken by RPX) – but recently their basic integrity has also been called into doubt. This follows the publication of a piece by the Boston Globe in which they are revealed to be either incapable of undertaking even basic research or dishonest.
As the US patent reform debate looks set to kick-off again in Congress following the mid-term elections earlier this month, the reliability of the two Boston University academics as sources of record matters very much. They are frequently cited and/or referenced by senior legislators, as well as by advisers to President Obama; while they are also consistently quoted by organisations lobbying for change. On top of that, countless articles in the press over the years have rehashed their claims that the actions of “trolls” cost operating companies tens of billions of dollars each year. In short, they have significantly influenced the argument. For them to have done so on the back of flawed research, a lack of intellectual consistency and potentially wilful misrepresentation is genuinely shocking.
Bessen and Meurer have repeatedly equated the term “NPE” with the term “patent troll”. In their 5th November Boston Globe article they write: “Trolls are firms with no interest in innovation or technology transfer; they hold patents to assert them against innocent businesses to extract some of the profit from genuine innovators.” A week later, on 12th November, in an article published by The Hill, Bessen claimed that “patent lawsuits filed by trolls cost operating companies over $29 billion in out-of-pocket costs; when things like employee distraction and lost business are included, that number jumps to $80 billion per year.”
Thus, Bessen is directly and knowingly tying the $29 billion and $80 billion figures from The Private and Social Costs of Patent Trolls and The Direct Costs of NPE Disputes to entities which he unequivocally stated just a week before “have no interest in innovation or technology transfer” and whose motivation for owning patents is “to assert them against innocent businesses to extract some of the profit from genuine innovators”. The question he must answer is how on earth he knows.