The LA Times Forgot About The 80/20 Rule

I got the link for this article about patent trolls at the LA Times from the blog written by my friend and yours, Dr. Roy Schestowitz.   I’ll freely admit that I don’t read the LA Times, online or otherwise, because TMZ.  Like I need another source for what’s going on in LA LA land?  Nevertheless, it appears that right there in the title is a problem and now that I’ve read the whole article?  Well, I just can’t leave well enough alone or I wouldn’t  be, you know, me.

Let’s address first things first:

One of Silicon Valley’s favorite hobbies is complaining endlessly about the rise of “patent trolls” and how they’re destroying innovation.

I thought Silicon Valley’s favorite hobbies were drinking coffee, comparing really good quality wines and fast cars, talking about start ups who are innovating despite innovation’s being destroyed, and vying to be on the next cover of Wired magazine.   I would, evidently, be wrong about that.

Now that we’ve all wasted spent the requisite 25 minutes reading the government’s study that tells what we already knew, everyone’s trying to parse it out to mean what they want it to mean (and I include myself in that category because I have abandonment issues and don’t like to be left out).  Isn’t that how it’s done?  But I think the LA Times misses the mark here.

There’s this little rule that I learned about when I was born because my family talked about nothing but business and politics when I was growing up so I pretty much had command of the laws of supply and demand by the 3rd grade, in addition to memorizing the mantra “buy low, sell high”.  They taught us the 80/20 rule thusly:  80% of the work in any organization is done by 20% of the people.  And they also taught me that this percentage split applies almost universally across all of life:

  • 80% of the cereal in the box will be eaten by 20% of the people in the home
  • 80% of the dog’s poop will be deposited in 20% of the yard
  • 80% of your child’s most expensive toys will be played with only 20% of the time

And on and on.  But what you realize as you get older and gain more experience in life, is that what’s in that 20% is what really matters.  So while this quote may be true:

Yes, NPEs appear to be contributing to a rise in patent litigation. But overall, NPEs account for only 20% of patent litigation, according to the report.

You have to look at what that 20% is costing in terms of actual dollars, lost productivity, and lost consumer options as start up after start up is targeted and faces shuttering their business rather than pay to fight a troll.  Whether or not you believe the $29 billion dollar number, it cannot be argued that even though “only 20%” of patent litigation is from trolls, it’s not having an impact.

The article on the whole makes the same good points that most of the others have:

  1. Patent quality matters.  Shout out to Article One Partners for the awesome company tag line!
  2. Software patents in particular are problematic
  3. Legislation isn’t likely to resolve any of the real issues derived from patent trolling

It just seems disingenuous to say that since the percentage of patent litigation brought by patent trolls is only 20% of the total, it’s not really a problem.

 Chris O’Brien?  I guess we just disagree on that.



2 thoughts on “The LA Times Forgot About The 80/20 Rule

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I don’t think my story says NPE’s are not a problem. It’s just that they are not THE problem. The big folks, (Google, Apple) are waging a campaign (PR and lobbying) to make NPE’s the villains of rising patent litigation. As the GAO report notes, litigation by NPEs is increasing.

    But it Congress were to make a law that mainly targets NPEs, it wouldn’t really address the real problem. Which, as you say, and the GAO reports stresses, is “patent quality.”

    In particular, software-related patents have run amok. The real focus of Congress and the USPTO should be on software patents and “patent quality,” and not obsessing on “patent trolls.”

    And trust me, “paten trolls” are an obsession out here. Something I hear someone complain about almost every day. 🙂 They even got This American Life to do 2 whole episodes about it.

  2. You’re right, you didn’t say it wasn’t a problem at all. I will 100% grant you that! I just think the true patent trolls (remembering that not all NPEs are trolls) are the source of more problems than really anything else.

    I definitely agree that the patents themselves are problematic…I’ve interviewed a former USPTO Examiner for the blog and what I learned was enlightening. You might find it interesting as well! Probably hit the blog next week.

    The only way for me to be *sure* of what people in Silicon Valley are talking about is for me to see for myself. You can send me a ticket to SFO at I can fly out of Hobby or Bush Intercontinental…see how easy I’m making it for you?? =)



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