Patent trolls and their effect on security

The influence of computers in our everyday lives cannot be underestimated. The wealth of knowledge, comfort, and ease afforded to the average individual is unparalleled in human history. Despite this, there is a dark side that can threaten even the most casual user and inflict incalculable damages.

Cyber terrorism is a controversial term with many conflicting definitions. In short, cyber terrorism can be summarized as an act where an individual with a malicious intent disrupts modern life through illegal means. This is especially chilling since cyber terrorism is increasing and becoming more and more dangerous as those with the knowledge and ability to exploit the very fabric of modern civilization grow more bold in their attacks.  

With this danger constantly looming, many businesses are forced to take the initiative in defending themselves. One of the most important methods is through the development and use of cutting-edge software designed to protect personal or business networks from attacks. This software is provided by specific IT companies that are given the enormous responsibility of building the technology needed to react and defend sensitive networks from being exploited. 

But the specter of patent litigation continues to overshadow the actions of any who work in technology. 

The rise of the non-practicing entity (NPE) has been an especially troubling development. NPEs are firms that usually acquire patents from a range of different fields for the sole purpose of generating profit through either litigation or licensing through the threat of lawsuit. 

The wide range of patents, the vague wording present in their descriptions, and the ease with which they may be applied makes it difficult for a company to defend its innovations. As a result, many companies have become more reticent toward development out of fear that they could become a target for costly lawsuits. 

This anxiety has translated into a decreased desire to take the kind of risks necessary to facilitate technological breakthroughs. Technology, by its very definition, requires innovation. And without funding, the march toward new and improved products will be hindered. 

Therein lays the problem: If companies and even governments can't evolve their protective capabilities in line with the intensifying advances of cyber criminals, then the security of some of our most precious information will become increasingly vulnerable.

It is inevitable that companies that are forced to allocate more money to defending against often-spurious claims will have a decreased ability to invest in innovation. This is the opening that potential cyber terrorists need to pursue their reprehensible goals. 

Cyber terrorists often don't pursue material gains, and therefore are largely unaffected by the hindrances of cost and convention. The vastness of the internet also means that, like the mythical Hydra, the removal of one head will more than likely spawn two replacements. It then becomes a moral argument for those who wish to exploit patents without contributing to the very market from which they are benefiting. 

If a company only seeks to use a patent, the physical embodiment of the spirit of innovation, to improve its bottom line while simultaneously neglecting to use it for the betterment of society, than they must be prepared to be responsible for the inevitable consequences of that decision. This choice must be laid at the doorstep of all who wish to exploit the system without providing anything in return.

Of course, this is not to say that patent litigation is inherently wrong. In the world of intellectual property, it is important that those who have invested time and effort toward an invention receive a reward and protection from anyone who seeks to exploit that invention without compensating the inventor.  

The problem arises when a company collects patents with no desire to use them toward the development of new and better technology. Of course, even practicing entities can be accused of tactics that are stereotypically connected to NPEs.

What's important is that patent litigation should be reserved only for the defense of patents being actively used by the company in pursuit of the realm of technology in which it is involved. Even those NPEs that claim to be collecting patents only for ‘defensive purposes' propagate the problem by accepting the status quo. 

In short, all who fail to utilize and implement their intellectual property run the risk of unintentionally harming internet security.

Eugene Kaspersky

Fighting cyberattacks for over 30 years. First as an anti-virus researcher then as a businessman.

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