I love patents – I think allowing true inventors some protection for their efforts is a wonderful thing
e.g. Cats Eyes were an amazing invention that I am glad were so widely adopted in the UK.
I am not even totally against software or business process patents – I think it is possible to come up with something which is more innovative than “do it on a computer” or “automate it more” patents.
I am on the fence regarding the Apple/Samsung wars with design patents & FRAND patents. I own both Android & iOS devices.
Patents also have some “social proof” value from a marketing perspective and are interesting from a research perspective (for us search/marketing geeks).
However just the thought of needing to register “incremental” & “derivative” patents (which are the vast majority of software patents) purely for defensive, M.A.D. (mutually assured destruction) purposes is a huge drain on resources for startups & stifles innovation. If things go legal even more so.
On balance, whilst I feel there can be some merit to software patents, they do more harm than good.
As Fred says:-
I believe that software patents should not exist. They are a tax on innovation. And software is closer to media than it is to hardware. Patenting software is like patenting music.
Whatever your flavor of online marketing, SEO, direct response, “growth hacking” etc, the majority of “new” ideas are incremental, built on the shoulders of others and the rest is design & execution.
Yesterday a tools provider in the SEO space decided to use some of their many patents “offensively”, and it filled me with anger & rage. Or it probably would have done if my emotional state was anywhere close to normal/balanced (more on that soon). Suffice it to say it has motivated me to write something.
I have decided the best way to deal with patent trolls and companies in the online marketing space who use trivial patents in the marketing space offensively is to ostracize them.
How To Ostracize A Startup
Remove Their Voice
- Don’t follow them or their employees on social media
- Don’t read their blog
- Unsubscribe from their mailing lists
- Leave their marketing email in your spam folder rather than rescue it
- Avoid their guest posts
- Don’t link to them in blog posts, reviews etc
- Don’t recommend them to friends/colleagues
- Add them to an “ostracize” list & tell people why
- Don’t attend any conference where they are a primary sponsor or speaker
- Don’t accept them as advertisers
- Block their corporate IP Address
- Add their company name to badword lists for comment spam
Remove Their Oxygen
- Don’t use their software / service directly (it would certainly be a material reason to break long-term contracts)
- Express displeasure to your service provider
- Don’t work as a consultant for any companies using their software / service
- Be extremely wary of using any software / service that has been funded by the same investors
- Be wary of accepting investment from the tainted investors
- Don’t work for companies that have the same investors
- Remove access to data from your own APIs
- Remove integration of data from their APIs
- Remove access to use of your own tools (autoresponder etc)
This might seem hard on VCs, but ultimately they are shareholders and should have a voice of restraint in taking such action. If data suggests they might be encouraging patent wars then startups connected to them will suffer.
- Follow them & their employees on social media
- Read their blog
- Join their mailing lists
- Promote their guest posts
- Link to them in blog posts, reviews etc
- Recommend competitors to friends/colleagues
- Attend any conference where they are a primary sponsor or speaker
- Give them cheap advertising deals
From now on I will take appropriate “ostracization” steps against startups I believe have in some way “crossed a line”. The line is as poorly defined and biased as Google’s for paid links.
BrightEdge 6th March 2014
Correlating web page visits and conversions with external references US 8577863 B2
Opportunity identification and forecasting for search engine optimization US 8478700 B2
Operationalizing search engine optimization US 8478746 B2
Operationalizing search engine optimization US 8135706 B2
I have had a brief look at the patents
They are all based around
- Scraping Search Results
- Attributing conversions to keywords used in search
Search Engine Optimization specialists have used various data collection methods including scraping Google’s results pages for over a decade, e.g. Web Position Gold. It intrigues me that someone would patent something that relies on breaking Google’s terms of service. All Aaron Swartz was doing when arrested was scraping JSTOR – effectively a similar terms of service violation.
I know Web Position Gold 2 was available in 2002 – my history of it and similar tools doesn’t go back any further.
Attribution of exact keyword used for search to conversions (early hack) was certainly possible in Google Analytics in 2006, and I can’t remember what kind of attribution to ecommerce and conversion goals were possible in 2005/2006. Once you had data you could also export it and use it in Excel.
Thus BrightEdge “innovation” in these patents really isn’t anything new. What they may have done well is implementation of an efficient toolset to do tasks that were already being done.
From Crunchbase they have the following investors – all of these are now partially guilty by association. Just because Insight Venture Partners also invested in Twitter who pioneered the “Innovators Patent Agreement” back in 2012 doesn’t give them a “get out of jail” card. All it takes is one bad apple.
|Series A, 8/2008 1
|Series B, 3/2010 2
|Series C, 3/2012 3
|Series D, 6/2013 4
Insight Venture Partners
Apparently 20,000+ SEOs use their software and over 8.000 clients, so whilst I can’t cancel a current software license this action could have a negative effect on my future income, and I am happy with that decision.
As an innovator within the SEO and marketing space I certainly wouldn’t want to be “exposed” to their proprietary technology.
Russ (CTO of Virante) has asked them to stop trying to sell him stuff because he doesn’t want to pay them money that isn’t earmarked for future innovation.
Hopefully Bill will do a more detailed analysis of the search patents but ultimately I don’t care if they have some potential level of merit in a court of law. Their existing patents have been used offensively and the ideas within the patents are hardly earth shattering.
These aren’t BrightEdge’s only patent applications and if everyone in online marketing patented everything and then went on the legal attack there would be a lot less innovation and sharing.
I don’t class BrightEdge as a “patent troll” – they make stuff, but I don’t support incremental software patents being used in an offensive manner.
Future Additions & Updates
This is intended to be a dynamic list of companies I believe are behaving badly & I feel is an appropriate response to software patent trolls and companies using trivial & incremental software patents in an offensive manner. It is possible to be removed from the list by taking appropriate retroactive & sincere measures.
Ostracization measures undertaken by their nature will be incremental but in many cases permanent. Who can predict what kind of butterfly effect one voice can have?
I know I have been absent and a little disconnected over the last couple of years so I may have missed similar situations and companies who should be added to this list. Please let me know in the comments.
Liked this post? Follow this blog to get more.