Company Tries To Patent Giving You A Reward For Not Defaulting On Your Mortgage

from the financial-innovation-patents dept

John Bennett points us to a blog post by Felix Salmon questioning a potential patent on a "financial innovation" that involves paying homeowners a bonus if they don't default on their mortgage payments. The idea is to use this to avoid the increasingly popular tactic of "strategic defaults," where people stop paying their mortgage not because they can't, but because they know that, even with any penalties, they'll come out ahead in the long run.

However, Salmon noticed that in a Time Magazine article about the "50 best inventions of 2010," the author claims that this concept is "patented." The Time author (shockingly) gets this wrong actually. Turns out it's only been applied for (Patent app 20100205087), which leads Salmon into a discussion on patenting financial innovation. He (unfortunately -- and surprisingly) gets the basics wrong by saying "it's generally accepted that financial innovations canít be patented," which I think would surprise anyone who's watched the patent system since the State Street decision came out in 1998. Hopefully, the Bilski ruling will keep things like this patent from getting approved, but it's too early to really judge the impact of Bilski.

That said, Salmon is exactly right about why it doesn't make sense to patent things like this "financial innovation," and also why the company might actually be better off if it had some more competition in the market:
But I'm not a fan of this development. For one thing, it's unnecessary. The barriers to entry in this business are high: Pallotta says LVG has spent millions of dollars over the past few years building and marketing the program, as well as running it by a lot banks, servicers, investors, and regulators. And what's more, LVG would probably benefit, at the margin, if and when its idea was ratified by the entrance into the market of other people doing pretty much the same thing.

More generally, I don't want to see a world where people wanting to do positive things in the housing market are stymied by worries over patent suits. There is a worry that sleazy operators will put themselves forward as doing homeowners a favor when in fact they're doing no such thing, but patent law is not the best way to stop such people. LVG had a good idea in 2009. But that doesn't mean it should be able to patent the idea, and implicitly threaten anybody else thinking about entering the space with an expensive lawsuit.
Of course, some would argue that the high investment from LVG supports the idea of a patent, since it'll be "cheaper" for the next player to do the same (which isn't necessarily true). However, I think that Salmon's final point in that sentence, talking about the benefit of competitors copying to help "ratify" the market is an issue that is almost entirely overlooked in the discussions over patents, but is an important element. If you look back at the history of successful innovations, it almost always helps to have real and direct competition to help defray the market education costs. Getting more entrants into a market quite frequently broadens the overall market, meaning that the players actually are able to make more money.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    identicon
    www.sarcasm.edu, Nov 23rd, 2010 @ 10:32pm

    "Company Tries To Patent Giving You A Reward For Not Defaulting On Your Mortgage"

    But Mike, you're overstating the patent and overgeneralizing it. This patent covers various particular ways of giving people rewards, it doesn't just cover giving people rewards.

    These people innovated, they deserve to be rewarded for their contributions. This can also create more advancements in reward giving by encouraging people to find creative ways of working around the patent to reward people.

    Besides, the patent is pretty broad and is probably too broad to hold up in court regardless.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Nov 24th, 2010 @ 4:49am

    "paying homeowners a bonus if they don't default"

    It's little short of patenting a common fraud foisted on dolts who don't understand that long-term payments roughly double the cash price, so they're handing over the "bonus" before getting it "back". First seen in the auto industry where suckers got a few hundred in cash "rebated" -- after agreeing to payments totaling, say, 30,000 for a car priced at 18,000, and actually worth about 12,000 -- plus were skinned by other dealer tricks like clear coat, "dealer prep", and extended warranty (sheer profit since most suckers repeat and trade off before that time).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    staff, Nov 24th, 2010 @ 6:46am

    compete

    "the company might actually be better off if it had some more competition in the market..."

    Actually, it can be argued that patents are good for competition. It's extremely difficult for a small or startup firm to compete with large firms who are entrenched in the market place. Patents allow small firms to seize a niche in the market and gives them a chance to compete with large firms. At the same time it advances market technologies. Otherwise, large firms would be happy to keep rolling out old worn out products with no end in sight.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 24th, 2010 @ 7:16am

    Makes as much sense as patenting a 'Drop-Down Menu System'. Which was patented by Lotus in the 1980's and is actually owned by IBM at the current time. It caused no end of uproar because Lotus sued everyone that used a drop-down in their software. It was the end of Lotus because it pissed everyone off and they started using variations on it in their software. After a while all developers were using it and Lotus was so bogged down with lawsuits they had to sell the company to IBM and IBM to their credit cancelled all the lawsuits. Even though IBM never actually put drop-downs in the public domain they turned a blind eye to using them because to do so stifled innovation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 24th, 2010 @ 7:23am

    Re: compete

    [citation needed]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 24th, 2010 @ 7:24am

    Re: compete

    "Actually, it can be argued that patents are good for competition."

    It can be argued that undetectable magic fairies can resurrect people from the dead.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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