Missing The Point In The Debate Over Patents

from the fair-and-balanced dept

Over the past few years, the debate over patent reform has gotten louder, as there have been more and more cases demonstrating that the existing patent system is fundamentally broken. News.com has a "special report" up today that tries to look at the issue of patent holding companies who do nothing but try to license patents. In trying to present a "balanced" view, though, the article completely misses the point. It quotes the various supporters of patent holding companies (often referred to as "patent trolls") talking about how they're helping protect "the little guy" from big international companies that otherwise would profit off of their intellectual property. It sounds nice, but that's not what the problem really is all about. The patent system isn't designed to "protect the little guy." It's designed to promote innovation -- and that's what it needs to be judged on. Patents may make some sense in cases where a concept is truly unique and non-obvious -- but if others are coming up with the idea independently and are better able to bring it to market, then the patent holder is holding back innovation. The other companies didn't "steal" the idea, because they came up with it independently (suggesting that it wasn't unique enough to deserve patent protection anyway). And, as we've pointed out in the past, it's not the "invention" that's really that important, but the ability to successfully bring it to market that helps the economy grow. Unfortunately, the patent system is more designed to protect that "invention," but to impede the real innovations that help make a product successful in the market place. All of the points these patent holding firms are making would be a lot more valid if the patents they were holding onto and forcing everyone to license actually were unique, non-obvious ideas that others were really building off of. Instead, they're taking ideas that plenty of others are coming up with independently and making the real innovation more expensive.

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  1. identicon
    John, 21 Jul 2005 @ 4:29am

    Re: No Subject Given

    Hey Mike,

    I would think that 99% of independent inventors are like scientists, they are good at thinking up solutions to problems, but know beans about successfully running a business. Even if the "innovative" (idea) part was removed from the equation, it is still extremely difficult to get funding or building *ANY* business for that matter. Thats probably why most small businesses fail in the first year. So, if your opinion is that only entities that can "successfully" bring an idea to market should deserve a patent, then you have to realize you are ruling out 99% of independent inventors.

    "then the inventor should be able to make a business out of it"....well licensing is a well establish business model - virtually all music, movies and software are based on this model. So, why should an independent inventor, who doesn't have the resources to bring their idea to market, be prevented from making money by licensing their idea instead?

    When I made the statement "has the responsibility to get a patent", I meant that if they want to preserve their "profitable" rights to an idea, they need to file a patent. But, if someone comes up with an idea, but doesn't want exclusive rights to it, then they alternatively have the responsibility to publicly document their idea ASAP so as to create a proper "Prior Art" time marker, which will prevent anyone else from making a claim on the idea. If someone comes up with an idea, but keeps it to themselves, then they didn't properly protect their idea, and they really have no right to complain if someone else *independently* thinks up the idea and patents it.

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