More VCs Recognizing The Problems Of Our Patent System
from the a-good-sign dept
Back in December, it was great to see a VC, Greg Blonder, point out why he felt patents hurt innovation, while also taking his fellow VCs to task for their excessive interest in patents. Beyond the fact that Blonder had previously been a big patent supporter, this was big news for another reason: VCs, traditionally, love patents — but for all the wrong reasons. When VCs are investing in companies they’re always hoping for some sort of “sustainable competitive advantage” and too often they incorrectly believe (or, perhaps, they just want to believe) patents represent evidence of a sustainable competitive advantage. The fact of the matter, though, is that in a competitive market there is no such thing as a sustainable competitive advantage. It’s a myth — and a somewhat dangerous one for those who believe in it. Instead, the way to succeed isn’t through sustainable competitive advantage, but through continuous innovation — that is, through a series of fleeting competitive advantages. You don’t need patents for that — just a smart, motivated team and a market to serve. Unfortunately, too many VCs focused on patents as the main “competitive advantage” — and to this day VCs are heard all the time bragging about the patents their portfolio firms have, rather than the product or the paying customers. This focus on patents means that a ton of effort and money gets wasted on patents, lawyers and litigation efforts. That’s why it was so great to see a well known VC stand up and say that it was wrong. The good news is that this viewpoint may finally be permeating through more of the VC ranks. Both Brad Feld and Fred Wilson wrote this week about just how problematic software patents are — and how they both believe they’re problematic for innovation. Wilson goes much further to suggest that the entire concept of intellectual property is problematic (though, he also points out that, due to the way the patent system currently is, he tells his startups to file for as many patents as possible). Of course, it’s not that surprising that these two particular VCs took this stance — as both are seen as more “progressive” among VCs. However, it’s good to see them state it so publicly and get a discussion going. A better recognition that patents are not the key element of a competitive strategy is important for getting the focus back on actual innovation in getting products to market, rather than wasteful and harmful battles over intellectual property.