Reuters, usually taciturn in their coverage of technology, has written a nice tick tock about the rise and fall of trademark troll Proview in China. The company, founded around the same time the Mac Portable hit the scene, was once a display powerhouse, producing 4 percent of the CRTs sold during the early dot-com decade and 12 percent of the LCDs. Although it’s probably hard to remember, Proview probably made a monitor you used 20 years ago.
The company began making all-in-one CRT PCs under the iPAD moniker, a move that seemed, at best, quixotic. In the opening years of the 21st century, Proview kept at it, hitting a rough spot in 2008 and never regaining its footing during the financial crisis.
The rest is a familiar story: the company fell into debt and stopped making products and instead generated lawsuits. This tore the company to pieces and now its only refuge is to try to pull more cash out of a trademark lawsuit that was already settled.
This is what gets me most about trolls like SCO, Proview, and the like: that they were once great companies laid low and reduced to trolling for settlements. Like that fungus that infects an ant and forces it to climb to a place conducive to its own parasitic growth – killing the ant in the process – the legal fees strip whatever was good out of a company leave a shell populated by lawyers and hangers on. Even the original creators, in some cases, don’t see the spoils of the legal team’s efforts. All that’s left is a shell company and some letterhead.
Call all you want for patent reform: these companies will still be trying to wring the last ounce of cash out of a failed idea. This is less about reform than about the ease with which lawsuits can be brought, enforced, and scare tactics implemented to cloud the issues of ownership and real value. No one wins.