Ramping down Project Troglodyte

“On a personal level, I may have found a niche which I will need now that I have been “liberated” from my previous job and am “facing new challenges”: humanitarian IPR. “

Last year we decided to make a spinoff from Zygomatica, focusing on “hunting for bad patents”. We called it Project Troglodyte (www.project-troglodyte.org) and found new collaborators. We gave it about six months to evolve. The six months is now up. The readership and core team did not grow enough, so we are ramping it down. We will rewrite and republish some of the material here on Zygomatica.

I do not really consider this a failure, as we learned a good many valuable and interesting things. On a personal level, I may have found a niche which I will need now that I have been “liberated” from my previous job and am “facing new challenges”:  humanitarian IPR. There is plenty of humanitarian activity going on; for the most part, patents and IPR are not considered at all relevant in that world. Yet, they can be relevant — and almost never in a good way. Someone needs to understand the risks and also the upsides.

Our initial interest was in fighting “patent trolls” — entities that file and buy patents purely for the purpose of litigation. A major eye-opener was the possibility that trolling could quite quickly lead to trampling of basic human rights: See Trolling on the human rights. See also “How farmers were punished for using a shovel” and “The trolling triad“. The risks are real.

We came up with ideas that might actually genuinely have worked, in particular “antipatents”. Simple concept:

  • It seems to be possible to patent almost anything.
  • If something has already been “invented”, it can no longer be patented. (In technical terms, there is “prior art” that prevents it).
  • If so, why not “invent” everything trivial before someone else has time to patent it?
  • This collection of “inventions” could be called the “Antipatent Office” (APO).

This sounds flippant, but in fact this could be technically doable. I will summarize some of the better antipatent ideas in later postings.

However, in the end we ran into a major wall of demotivation. It might be possible to fight patent trolls in the United States with the antipatent strategy. However, the craziest features of the US patent system are not really being exported to the rest of the world, so mostly this is a US issue. American companies are suffering greatly from patent trolls; as Europeans, we really could not care less, as long as we are not contaminated. Antipatents might work if someone is motivated; we are not.

I found that the patent systems of developing countries are far more interesting, as are questions related to the use of IPR in humanitarian situations. However, I did not manage to drum up sufficient enthusiasm in the rest of the team. So, it makes more sense to pursue them as a solo project here on Zygomatica.

I wish to thank our collaborators (Kalle Pietilä, Viv Collins, and Florian Lengyel) for their contributions to Troglodyte.