Trolls Are Capitalists Too

June 23, 2010 by  

My work with Intangible Capital intersects with the field and practice of intellectual property (IP). In conversations about IP, especially in my monthly programs at the Intangible Asset Finance Society, trolls are a frequent topic of discussion. In fact, some colleagues from IAFS and I ran a workshop about modeling IP-intensive businesses at the recent ICAP Ocean Tomo event that talked about the line between a research organization and a troll.

But I have never spoken up about my view. I don’t really defend trolls. I see the question in a larger context of the operating assumptions broadly held about business and ownership. Today, I decided to jump into the conversation when I read Andrew Watson’s post That Troll Session-slashdot, IOU an apology from the IAM IP Business Conference this week in Munich. Here’s the comment I posted to Andrew’s blog:

Andrew, I am sympathetic to your feelings about trolls. But I submit to you that trolls are no different from private equity or even ordinary stockholders–they seek to profit from ownership of an asset.

The same American accents that brought you trolls also brought you the ideologies of private equity and shareholder value based on three assumptions: First, that it is the divine right of the owner to all the profits from owned asset. Second, it is the sacred obligation of everyone working for them to maximize their return. Third, the definition of “return” can be defined by short-term stock market movements. These three concepts together can lead to behavior that is profitable in the short run and destructive (even to the company itself) in the long run.

In our new book, we make the case that “reputation is the new bottom line.” Not because the financial bottom line will go away but because companies will feel ever more pressure to meet the needs of their community and stakeholders. And stakeholders will judge by more than just short-term profits.

Ultimately, you (and we) are asking for a different set of rights and obligations around ownership of assets. I’m all for it. And I’ll keep beating the drum over here with my own American accent! But don’t single out the trolls. It’s not fair.

Feel free to comment here or head over to Andrew’s post at Tangible IP.

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