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
    Chip Venters, 21 Jul 2005 @ 6:16am

    Re: No Subject Given

    Completely agree with this post. There seems to be a bias against patents because for the most part, large companies own all of them. The occasional small company that actually invents something unique and actually has the money to go through the expensive and lengthy process of patenting the invention needs the protection even more, because otherwise the large companies would simply take the idea. Many times the money required to get the patent takes away the resources to actually take an invention to market...thus the need for a licensing mechanism. Many "patent trolls" are legitimate inventors and holders of important patents that simply cannot raise the money to go to market....but they still deserve the market value, which translates into a license fee, that the invention might bring. Without patents, the very entities that Mike abhors would just run roughshod over the rest of us. Instead of continuing to invent new software, I guess I would get a job flipping burgers.

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