As if you needed any surer sign that the patent system in this country is a little screwy, the New York Times has a profile up today of NTP, the "virtual company" which successfully squeezed nearly half a billion dollars out of RIM last month in a patent suit over RIM's BlackBerry wireless email technology. NTP doesn't actually make anything or sell anything, the company was set up specifically to sue anyone or anything that refuses to pay them licensing fees for several wireless email patents the company's founder obtained several years ago. If someone invents something unique and valuable, yes, they have the right to prevent other people from using their idea, even if they chose not to do anything with it themselves, but the patent system was designed to encourage innovation, not stifle it, and all companies like NTP are doing is sitting on patents and then shaking down companies that actually do try to create something. The source of the problem? The USPTO's practice of granting overly broad patents, something which encourages companies to file defensive patents and then sit back and wait for somebody else to run afoul of one of them. The USPTO is finally starting to re-examine, and in some cases invalidate, NTP's patents, but it's probably too little, too late for RIM.