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Hooray for the Patent Troll!

By creating market liquidity, "trolls" provide a valuable service to inventors

3 min read

In late November, Microsoft lost a round in a South Korean legal dispute with a local inventor and a company that had bought the rights to his patent for a process that translates Korean into English. Such a dispute would have been too small to merit notice internationally if not for the plaintiff’s business model. This suit was brought against Microsoft not by the inventor alone, but rather by both the inventor and the firm—called P and IB—that had bought the rights to his patent, apparently without any intention of turning those rights into any kind of product.

The firm in this case took on the role of a so-called patent troll. I say ”so-called” because the phrase is a pejorative label of indeterminate meaning, and I find it somewhat loathsome. In fact, patent owners who are often accused of being patent trolls are acting within the law. There is nothing wrong either with them or the law. Far from stifling innovation, trolls foster it.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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