Clear & Concise Explanation Of The Problem With Patents

from the more-voices dept

More and more people are adding their voices to the growing consensus around the massive harm that the patent system is doing to innovation within the tech industry. PC World's Katherine Noyes has a great article that lays out a clear argument for why the patent system is making things worse for consumers. Here's just a snippet, though the whole thing is worth reading:
5. Innovation Is Being Squelched

Software innovation depends heavily on the exchange and iterative development of new ideas, but such exchange is precisely what software patents are designed to prevent. Numerous patents have been granted that are excessively broad, too, making it virtually impossible to develop original software without fear of infringing.

6. Small Companies Are Being Shut Out

For all of the above reasons, you could be the most brilliant and creative software developer ever, but if you don't have pockets deep enough to pay hefty licensing fees and start a patent war chest of your own the way Google is being forced to do, you are simply out of luck. End of story.

7. Consumers Pay the Price

Small businesses suffer as a result, but ultimately the even bigger loser--as always--is the consumer. Under this system, control of ideas is falling into the hands of the companies that are big, fat and unable to innovate, simply because they have the money and no other easy way to earn more. That, in turn, means the little guys--the innovative ones--can't bring to market the next big thing that could change consumers' lives, at least not without a heavily inflated price.
It's nice to see that more and more people are making it clear that this isn't just some "fringe" opinion, but such feelings are extremely common among folks throughout the tech industry -- supposedly the people patents are supposed to protect most. When those people hate and/or fear the patent system, clearly something's wrong. So why is Congress' only move to make the system worse?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 1:20am

    Patents lawyers singing.

    It's a brand new day
    It's a brand new me
    I got no remorse
    Now the water's rising
    But I know the course
    I'm gonna shock the world
    Gonna show Bad Horse
    It's a brand new day

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 6:41am

      Re: Patents lawyers singing.

      I just downloaded (legally from amazon.com) that album like half an hour ago. really odd coincidence...

       

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

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    anonymous, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 2:24am

    stop trying to bring common sense into the discussion, Mike. you know that it doesn't exist in Congress. they wont do anything unless there is a big, fat 'incentive' attached first. whether that request is good/right or not doesn't matter, even if it turns out to adversely affect them.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 2:26am

    Quote "So why is Congress' only move to make the system worse?"

    I'd have thought the answer to that was pretty obvious!

    Because the same "big, fat and unable to innovate" companies have the money to pay the lobbyists.......

     

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      The eejit (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 5:27am

      Re:

      What you mean is that all "donations" to Congresscritters are tax write-offs for the purposes of corporate taxation purposes.

      And your politicos want to spread this like herpes?

       

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    Richard (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 2:53am

    I'd like to add

    8. The psychological damage done to small patent holders who become obsessed with defending their patents. This of course applies to all patents. Arguably the stress of the patent war with Curtis killed Wilbur Wright.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 4:19am

    I think this blog is the wrong place to be complaining about people that are "big, fat and unable to innovate."

    just sayin.

     

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    Howard the Duck, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 4:58am

    Obvious

    Why is it that congress can't see this clearly? It won't be noticed by the average Joe on the street until everything is locked up, and you have to pay to breathe.

     

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    identicon
    Airflo, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 5:04am

    Hire Me for Public relations

    It seems Google will eventually obtain world dominance
    in the cellphone venture. Too dam bad it is such a cutthroat
    business as too have one party willing and able to sell theyre souls for another faster quad core!

    There is really no soul when it comes to smartphone OS dominance.

    The race will go on, mainly because of egocentric conglomerates.
    There truly is no soul when it comes to stockholder money.

    So, have you ppl learned anything...or does it take a fucking book the size of a bible to slap you in the face before you see the frugality of a faster, thinner,
    prettier smartphone?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 5:18am

    And you. brand new day...your poem made me almost puke up my margarita...wtf

    Look, a poem of fagalitiness such as you spewed, will never get your greasy, unwashed artistic ass near the front door,
    cause I will personally give the guard your pic

     

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    AJBarnes, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 5:23am

    Hard Math

    I was reading with interest on Ars Technica how the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has gotten into the fray and said if an algorithm can be done with paper and pencil, it is not patentable (see http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/08/appeals-court-says-only-complicated-math-is-patentab le.ars).

    Seems like we're finally headed in the right direction with these stupid patent disputes. Should software be Copyrightable? Yes. Patentable? No. Case closed. Let's move on and let the innovation begin again!

     

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    Humongus Dinosaur Company CEO, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 5:37am

    All these things you refer to as "bad" are actually perfect for my business.

    Since the average price for a congressman only costs 20 grand per issue, and I only need to buy less than ten of them, this isn't going to change unless you (the average citizen) puts your money where I do.

    We all know that won't happen. Sucks to be you.

     

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    identicon
    Eagle One, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 5:44am

    Can we get it in black, and is my Social security number
    good to go, or will I have to get one of those tattoo thingys on my hand??

    Me and hubby have been putting it off, but the kids are getting hungry so we will have to go in next week, mainly so we can get some food for the kids. I dont belive its
    a bad thing....if your kids are hungry you will get
    the tattoo. Everybody seems to be doing it.
    Last week my hubby was turned down for a job so, he will
    get the mark with me also.

    Im so excited...finally we can make some money and feed our kids

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 6:23am

    Mike, the only think I can say is that you are stating as fact things that are still up for debate. While you can find people that say X is true, others say X is not true, or becuase of X you get Y.

    Number 7 in particular is an issue. Consumers pay the price, always. But they would pay the price today of licensing, or pay the price by not having the innovative new technologys, products, and medicines that might not ever have been invested in without patents. So is it better to pay a slight premium today for something you might not see for a decade or more if a business case could not be made for research or developing something new?

    Further, R&D (and marketing for that matter) are all rolled into the retail price anyway. If it cost a million to research something, that money has to come back in some fashion. Perhaps without patents, the market price for initial units of a given product might be even higher, as companies rush to try to make their money back before others copy them. That higher price might shut more consumers out of the market, and might permit copycats to charge much more for their duplicate products as well (because a small decrease in price on the dupe might be enough to get them market share, but that price would still be a discount off the over high initial price).

    There are few facts in the debate. There are plenty of opinions, but trying to state them as facts is misleading.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 6:47am

      Re:

      There has been numerous evidence to show innovation and invention still takes place without patents, plus even more evidence showing that patents hold both of those back. However, there is next to none that show the other case. You're like a creationist arguing against evolution.

       

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      Richard (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 7:06am

      Re:

      But they would pay the price today of licensing, or pay the price by not having the innovative new technologys, products, and medicines that might not ever have been invested in without patents. So is it better to pay a slight premium today for something you might not see for a decade or more if a business case could not be made for research or developing something new?

      If you and actually studied the history of technical progress even a little bit you would not be making that assertion. The fact is that patents have historically hampered almost every major technological development there has ever been. In fact I challenge you to name one that you think has benefited from patents - and I will show you evidence to the contrary!

      It isn't an accident that the greatest periods of technical development have been during the two world wars - when governments knocked heads together and patents were temporarily ignored - and in s/w before 1980 when there were few patents.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 8:08am

        Re: Re:

        Richard, it is not "benefited from patent" after the fact, but rather "got to the patent stage XX years sooner". That is to say that, without protections, would anyone have even gotten to the point of having something to work from?

        If you get something 10 years sooner than we would have under an open system, but we pay a small premium on the end product to get it, are we still not further ahead?

        You have to buy into the Masnick theory that people get patents not to make money to think that patent holders aren't generally interested in getting either a product to market or licensing their patent technology to others to bring to market. The point is that until you make the market, you have expense and no return.

        As for the "greatest periods", during the war there is incredible motivation for improvements (innovate or die, literally) and often an endless supply of government money to fund it. It isn't a natural state. As for software, when you go from nothing to something, there is always lots of "innovation". Mature industries just never have the same innovations levels that exist at the start. So those would be two poor examples that highlight little, except perhaps that almost all other innovations that you use every day came during periods of patent law, and you still have 'stuff'. Amazing, isn't it?

         

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          Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 10:17am

          Re: Re: Re:

          that people get patents not to make money to think that patent holders aren't generally interested in getting either a product to market or licensing their patent technology to others to bring to market.

          Article I, Section 8, Clause 8
          "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

          Nowhere in that do I see the right to make money. I also don't see a right to stop others from making use of their own inventions. Patents are about promoting the progress, not making money. The two are not necessarily connected. You also continue to use misleading language confusing innovation and patents. Again, the two are not necessarily connected.

           

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          Ed C., Aug 19th, 2011 @ 11:09am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Seriously? Who do you think is the "innovator", the company that creates the patent, yet can't or even won't bring it to market, or the company that makes a marketable, or even successful, product without even seeing the patent in the first place? I'd guess your money is on the one who's only "innovation" is expecting to collect monopoly rents from a piece of paper...

          And BTW, patents are supposed to be for original "inventions", and include detailed plans that anyone "skilled in the art" could use to create it. I'd guess you've never actually read any software patent's, have you? Many of the ones I've seen are full of vague ideas that, even if taken as a "blueprint", would take over a year of REAL development and testing before you'd get anything remotely close to a usable product. That's so far short of what should even be patentable, that it's not even funny. As for being original, a recent analysis of software patents found that ~30% of them cover similar inventions with overlapping claims!

          Even if you believe that software is patentable (despite being nothing but a collection of unpatentable algorithms and data) there's a great deal of evidence that US patent office is still patently clueless about software.

           

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            Richard (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 2:04pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I'd guess you've never actually read any software patent's, have you? Many of the ones I've seen are full of vague ideas that, even if taken as a "blueprint", would take over a year of REAL development and testing before you'd get anything remotely close to a usable product.

            It's worse than that - I heard of one case where the original inventor admitted that even he didn't understand the patent that had been written for him by the patent lawyers!

             

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          Richard (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 12:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Richard, it is not "benefited from patent" after the fact, but rather "got to the patent stage XX years sooner". That is to say that, without protections, would anyone have even gotten to the point of having something to work from?

          You misunderstood my words - What I meant was "Did the advancement of the technology proceed faster or better under the patent regime than it would have done without."

          The point in time at which the "benefit" occurred is irrelevant.

           

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          Richard (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 12:23pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          If you get something 10 years sooner than we would have under an open system, but we pay a small premium on the end product to get it, are we still not further ahead?

          To quote the Spartans

          "If"

           

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      Richard (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 7:08am

      Re:

      There are few facts in the debate. There are plenty of opinions, but trying to state them as facts is misleading.

      Rubbish - there are plenty of facts - they all back the anti-patent cause - your side has made an art form of ignoring the facts and then claiming that there are none!

       

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      MonkeyFracasJr (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 7:40am

      Re:

      [ifup DANDER]

      This is sickening:
      "and medicines that might not ever have been invested in without patents."
      It is repulsive to think that care, medical treatments, and medicines will not be developed because there is not money in it, with or without patents.

      Don't get me wrong I think that doctors and nurses and care staff deserve to be well compensated for what they do, but it makes me nauseous to know that hospitals are corporations and what they care *most* about is profits.

      [ifdown DANDER]

       

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      JEDIDIAH, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 1:26pm

      Scare Tactics

      > Number 7 in particular is an issue. Consumers pay
      > the price, always. But they would pay the price today
      > of licensing, or pay the price by not having the
      > innovative new technologys, products, and medicines
      > that might not ever have been invested in without patents.

      That little chestnut.

      Rolling back the clock on the patent office will not suddenly destroy innovation. This is just a mindless scare tactic. First and foremost the mother of invention is NEED and not avarice.

      People will continue to invent because stuff needs to get done and problems need to be solved.

      Also: Patents discourage cures. It's much more profitable to have people linger on with medicines they have to take for the rest of their life rather than actually cure them.

      So it's not really clear if "life saving drugs" are a consequence of the current PTO.

      Perhaps medicine should be taken out of the hands of crass corporations. Same goes for insurance too. Some things just don't end well when there's a conflict of interest driven by money.

       

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    freestewart (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 7:50am

    I don't subscribe to this economic hardship argument. There are always costs associated with running a business, so just saying that licensing costs money -- which leads to higher prices -- is pretty pointless.

    The real debate should be about what constitutes patentable subject matter. On a fundamental level, should software be patentable?

     

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      JEDIDIAH, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 1:29pm

      Economic Hardships Matter.

      The real issue isn't cost. It's suppression of competitors.

      Capitalism is supposed to be an efficient means to exploit capital. Anything that leeches resources from the system make it less effective.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 7:57am

    Curious why the aricle was used to essentially slam patents in general when the article was limited to "software" patents, a term that to date remains almost competely undefined.

    There are numerous algorithims that because of their complexity can only be implemented via software instructions because mechanical implementation is simply not fast enough. Military fire control systems readily come to mind. I do not see this these as problematic. Generic implementations in hardware where solutions are not time critical in my view are an entirely different matter and should be examined with much more skepticism, though I do not necessarily agree that Section 191 should be the deciding point. Sections 112, 102, and 103 are muchb better suited for the latter.

     

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    rocky, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 7:53pm

    its obvious

    that every facet of the usa goberment is corrupt
    do ya got your life boat ?
    ( i am still waiting on the patent for mine ....)
    while i watch the arrangement of the deck chairs
    on the titanic .............

     

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    unemployed_dev, Aug 20th, 2011 @ 9:47pm

    Forced??!

    > the way Google is being forced to do

    Yes, forced, FORCED I say! Forced by the lure of royalties and the delight of squishing the little guy that Google NEVER was.

    You can't prove your own innocence by proving the guilt of others, especially if you start mimicking exactly what they're guilty of doing.

    There are legal precedents in many countries for the State seizing private property if the property was not lawfully acquired by the current holder, even if they bought it on good faith. Well good faith can hardly be a credible claim here, and these obvious and non-revolutionary incremental developments that are being patented should never have been granted by WIPO/USPTO in the first place. Overturn them I reckon.

    Google is just the case du jour. Let's not forget the Amazon "One-Click Shopping" fiasco. Maybe I should patent "One Click Blog Commenting" and make a bundle from techdirt. Even if my method requires more than one click in practice the patent could still be granted! Tech patents generally are on blurry grounds but software patents are clearly a bad joke.

     

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    staff, Aug 21st, 2011 @ 7:28am

    patent bill is bad for America

    "More and more people are adding their voices "

    That's because more and more are being paid to write biased propaganda pieces like you.

    "patent reform"

    Just because they call it “reform” doesn’t mean it is.

    The patent bill is nothing less than another monumental federal giveaway for banks, huge multinationals, and China and an off shoring job killing nightmare for America. Even the leading patent expert in China has stated the bill will help them steal our inventions. Who are the supporters of this bill working for??

    Patent reform is a fraud on America. This bill will not do what they claim it will. What it will do is help large multinational corporations maintain their monopolies by robbing and killing their small entity and startup competitors (so it will do exactly what the large multinationals paid for) and with them the jobs they would have created. The bill will make it harder and more expensive for small firms to get and enforce their patents. Without patents we cant get funded. Yet small entities create the lion's share of new jobs. According to recent studies by the Kauffman Foundation and economists at the U.S. Census Bureau, “startups aren’t everything when it comes to job growth. They’re the only thing.” This bill is a wholesale slaughter of US jobs. Those wishing to help in the fight to defeat this bill should contact us as below.

    Small entities and inventors have been given far too little voice on this bill when one considers that they rely far more heavily on the patent system than do large firms who can control their markets by their size alone. The smaller the firm, the more they rely on patents -especially startups and individual inventors.

    Please see http://truereform.piausa.org/default.html for a different/opposing view on patent reform.
    http://docs.piausa.org/

     

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    MonkeeRench, May 14th, 2012 @ 10:50am

    Patents

    Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater! Just because the recent patenting of software is insane (and business methods and lifeforms to boot) doesn't mean that what helped build this country should be discarded! It means such crazy de-regulation of patentable subject matter under the Idiots (ignorant persons) Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Shrub, even Obama, should be reversed, just like the idiotic de-regulation of banks ergo bankster casino gamblers!

     

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