04.26.2019 0

Comcast’s ugly history of intellectual property theft

By Rick Manning

Today is World IP day, a day dedicated to raise awareness of how patents impact our daily life and to celebrate creativity, and the contribution made by creators and innovators to the economic vitality of our nation. Intellectual property rights are foundational to capitalism and free enterprise itself, and in today’s technologically-focused world, they serve as the bedrock of our economy.

But our struggling system for protecting intellectual property and patents has raised prices and stifled creativity.

Some point to China as the main culprit for our broken intellectual property system. It’s true that China is a malevolent player, routinely stealing the intellectual property of American companies. It’s wrong when American companies spend countless dollars on research and development, only for foreign actors to steal it and abuse our hard work.

But it’s not just China that’s abusing our intellectual property system. Some of America’s largest companies here at home are having a similar effect, deploying armies of lawyers to use our antiquated patent system to their advantage. They use their vast resources, oftentimes enshrined by government regulations manipulated to entrench their near monopolies, to launch legal assaults on other companies’ patents.

The reality is our government’s current system for certifying and enforcing patents is not strong or efficient enough and lacks transparency. As a result, it is being run over by corporate giants.

The best example of this is the cable giant Comcast. In patent court, they are Goliath.

Comcast is the largest cable company in America. From broadband subsidies to local monopolies, Comcast is the only choice for many Americans who have no other cable provider to turn to.

And they will do anything to squeeze customers and the government for more. They receive subsidies from the government, only to turn around and raise prices on consumers. Customers lose out.

That’s why no one should be surprised when Comcast steals intellectual property without paying the proper licensing fees. To Comcast, paying an army of lawyers to drag out patent cases in court is cheaper than paying innovators for their technology. It’s no different than when they charge ridiculous fees or delay service appointments. It’s all about a virtual monopoly exercising its power at the expense of the consumer.

Customers lose out because they pay higher fees, while these legal battles force companies like Comcast to remove features for violating patents. For instance, Comcast has been forced to remove remote DVR capabilities from their set top boxes, an essential part of home entertainment, after they refused to pay for the license to use that technology.

Consumers pay more, but Comcast offers less. That’s a raw deal.

Not every company can afford to combat Comcast in court. When companies target Comcast and earn legal victories, it’s David beating Goliath. It doesn’t happen often.

That’s because our patent system is stacked in favor of Goliath. Those with armies of lawyers and lobbyists can drag out cases and bleed their legal opponents dry. They can win the case without being on the right side of the law.

Comcast’s on-going bad behavior and bullying should be a red flag for companies who care about innovation and protecting their intellectual property and they should think twice about doing business with a company like Comcast.

The author is president of Americans for Limited Government

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