Do Patents Help Or Harm Innovation?

from the o'reilly-vs.-walker dept

We complain about stupid patents and “IP licensing shops” here all the time. So, here’s a good article discussing whether patents help or harm business innovation. It’s basically a debate between Tim O’Reilly (of O’Reilly Associates) and Jay Walker (of Priceline and Walker Digital). O’Reilly is well known for being anti-patent, and was one of the folks who set up the (apparently now defunct) BountyQuest to help find prior art to disprove patents. Walker, on the other hand is a huge patent supporter – and Walker Digital’s main focus is on coming up with patents that they can go out and license. O’Reilly says patents stifle innovation by making it costly for anyone to build on previous work to make something better. Walker says the opposite is true – and people wouldn’t invent stuff without patents. Of course, if you just look at the number of things being created today that actively shun intellectual property protection, you can easily prove that’s not true. Furthermore, even if you must have patents, why won’t the defenders of the patent system admit that it’s broken? Most of these IP shops aren’t using patents to protect their own innovation. They’re patenting things knowing that someone else will come up with the same idea (thus, suggesting the idea is not “non-obvious” as a patent requires). So, they just sit back and wait. They don’t actually innovate. They don’t build anything that helps society. Then, when someone else actually does build it – usually without even being aware of the patent, so it’s clearly not “theft” of intellectual property – they come along and try to squeeze them for money. That’s not encouraging innovation. The effect is exactly the opposite. So, if there must be patent laws, then why not require the patent holder to actually produce something based on their patent, rather than just sitting on it, stifling innovation?

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Do Patents Help Or Harm Innovation?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Mike (profile) says:

Re: Moot Debate

Er. Well. No. Patents aren’t in the Constitution. The relevant phrase is:

“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;”

Which can be open to a wide range of interpretation, and don’t necessarily mean that patents are a necessity.

Chip Venters (user link) says:

Patents on technology processes

If not for patent protection on technology processes, there would literally be nothing to stop companies like Microsoft from running roughshod over any small company with an innovation. Witness the Intertrust litigation against MS. Intertrust created many of the security concepts that MS has woven into nearly every component of their software. Intertrust simply asked MS to pay some royaties for their efforts…which MS has refused to do. Since Intertrust had the forsight to patent these processes, they actually have a chance to recover the lost revenue that MS has in essense stolen. A judge ruled strongly in favor of Intertrust this week…as she should have. Without these patents, Intertrust investors would have gotten nothing, and Microsoft would have successfully hijacked yet another important technology. If this was allowed to happen, why would anyone innovate, or invest in innovation? You’d might as well email your idea and plan to

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Patents on technology processes

Now, what would you say if Microsoft and Intertrust had come up with the same idea completely separately, but Intertrust had been the first to patent it? Wouldn’t it then be unfair that Microsoft had to pay another company for an idea they had come up with?

Next, what if Microsoft took Intertrust’s ideas and made them much better? Should the rest of the world suffer, because Intertrust is charging too much for their patents?

For every reason that patents seem to make sense, there are another half a dozen problems. I’m willing to discuss a reasonable patent system if someone can answer what do we do about those situations.

I’m not completely against patents – but the current system is much more broken than anyone seems willing to acknowledge.

Chip Venters (user link) says:

Re: Re: Patents on technology processes


I agree with your basic line of argument on this one. However, Microsoft has the biggest army of patent attorneys, and tends to file patents on any idea Bill Gates may have from his rocking chair overlooking the Pacific. In this case, Intertrust did invent the stuff, Microsoft stole it and has refused to admit it. The government is now enforcing Intertrust’s rights. I am not sure how much Intertrust wanted for royalties, so it could have been excessive, obviously adding to the problem. BTW, enjoy reading your views daily. Chip

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...