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. icon
    Mike (profile), 21 Jul 2005 @ 9:07am

    Re: No Subject Given

    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.

    See, this makes no sense to me. You're saying that we should reward people who can't prove their idea is valid. That doesn't move the economy forward. It moves it backwards.

    If the independent inventor is no good at commercializing his ideas, then he needs to find someone who is, and partner with them. Yes, it's difficult to start a business, and that's exactly why what I'm saying makes sense. You're granting monopoly rights to people who haven't shown that their idea is actually valuable and your punishing the people who commercialize it. Those are the people who work hard to prove that an idea is valuable.

    Again, an independent inventor can go out and license ideas if he or she wants. I wasn't saying they shouldn't be allowed to do that. But giving them exclusive rights to an idea -- especially when others appear to be coming up with it independently is a serious ball and chain on innovation.

    The value to society is not in the invention, but in bringing it to market in a successful way. Yet, the "inventor" gets the monopoly rights without proving that the product deserves anything. It's a drag on innovation.

    And, the idea that the only way to have "profitable" rights is to patent it is laughable. There were no profitable businesses before there were patents? As for your claim that those who don't file for a patent have a responsibility to make their invention public for prior art purposes -- again, what's with the "responsibility." What about companies who prefer to keep things quiet as a trade secret?

    And, I agree, those people don't have a right to complain... but if they can take it to market successfully, then why would they complain? It's all about being able to commercialize an idea, and that should have little to nothing to do with patents.

    As for the comparison to the music, movie and software industry -- it should be clear by now that those business models are falling apart for the very reasons I'm describing here. There's simply no reason to grant a monopoly to these providers.

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