Patents have been a lightning rod issue in the Open Source/Free
Software communities for some time now, with opinions varying from
"fodder for gross misrepresentations by Microsoft executives" to
"staunch support lest Western Civilization finally wind down." This
Forbes feature looks at the legacy of Jerome Lemelson, who played
the patent game to the tune of $1.5 billion and counting in what
this article calls "an intellectual land grab." Read about the man
who earned almost as many patents as Thomas Edison.
"This past February, Jerome Lemelson passed an
impressive milestone: The number of companies paying for licenses
on his patents reached 750.
So far, these licenses have reaped nearly $1.5 billion. This is
almost surely more than any individual patent holder has ever
earned from licensing patents, and it hasn't come about by
accident. Lemelson spent his life thinking up patents--and then
filing lawsuits to enforce them.
Lemelson may well have been a genius: He earned 558 patents
(some came after his death), which leaves him four places behind
the inventore-di-tutti-inventori, Thomas Edison. But his was a
different kind of brilliance altogether. In truth, his most
lucrative patents were the product of a masterful exploitation of
the patent system, and they created a huge legal web that to this
day ensnares corporations.
Now, though, the Lemelson litigation machine faces a serious
threat, in the form of a suit brought by a group of
bar-code-equipment manufacturers. If they win key rulings in the
next year, the Lemelson operation will, in all likelihood, finally
wind down. But if they don't, the $1.5 billion collected so far by
Lemelson will be just a down payment on a much larger tab--payment
not for the creation of new ideas but for what can only be called
an intellectual land grab."