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Why Patent Trolls Threaten Biotech

The backlash following the Blackberry patent dispute would hurt patents in the life sciences

Ronald I. Eisenstein

In the last few months, much has been written about a patent dispute that threatened to terminate Blackberry service. In the end, a shutdown was averted because Research In Motion (RIM), the company that manufactures Blackberry, paid $612 million to NTP to settle the dispute. The case, however, has triggered a dangerous call for patent reform that could hurt the life sciences industry.

Some of the news accounts of the patent battle sounded almost like a fairy tale. There was poor RIM under assault by "patent trolls" - the definition of which varies, from someone who opportunistically buys some unused patent and then enforces it vigorously against the industry, to anybody enforcing a patent that it does not intend to commercialize. NTP, one of the trolls, was accused of unfairly attacking RIM in a way that would prevent the Blackberry manufacturer from having its day in court. In fact, RIM...

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