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, 20 Jul 2005 @ 12:37pm

    No Subject Given

    I hear what you are saying, but consider these points with your single statement of "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."

    1) Personally, I think that if something is obvious *at the time the patent was filed*, then it should NOT get patent protection. And you would have a valid gripe on this one issue.

    2) But, when you said "...if others are coming up with the idea independently", then I am curious what past patents do you feel are truly innovative *AND* if given enough time, no one else would have thought of them?

    You are probably going to have a hard time finding candidates worthy of your definition of "patentable" because common sense dictates that virtually *any* idea will be eventually thought up by someone else (given enough time) just out of the normal course of progress. So, why even have a patent system if virtually every idea will eventually be thought up by someone else?

    So, in a world where virtually every idea will be eventually thought up by someone else (given enough time), how do you speed up/promote the process of new ideas/innovation? Simple - offer an incentive for new ideas - a capitalistic incentive to be exact.

    I believe the patent system was designed to "reward" innovation, with the side-effect of "promoting" innovation because it gives inventors a capitalic incentive to think up new ideas.

    Since every idea will eventually be thought up my multiple people (given enough time), how do we choose who should receive the reward for a new idea? Simple - the first person to apply for the patent on it.

    3) When you say "and are better able to bring it to market", are you saying that only big corporations should get patents because they have the deep pockets to properly develop, produce, advertise and "bring to market" new ideas? I hope not, because that would probably prevent a ton of innovations from small inventors, which would conflict with your desire to NOT "hold back" innovation. So then, how can a small inventor benifit from his new idea, but doesn't have the bank account to hire employees, rent an office and spend a ton to promote and bring it to market? Simple - license the invention.

    4) You then said "...the patent holder is holding back innovation" - Now here is where I belive the difference between benifit and innovation comes into play. If an idea is very innovative, great. But if it's not very benifcial to anyone, then it's really not worth much. But, if a a new idea would benifit many people, then the market would be willing to pay a certain amount for that benifit. This is where the "license" price becomes self-regulated. If the license price is too high, then no one will license the invention. But, the inventor filed a patent so he can make money on his invention, so if no one is buying his license because it is priced too high, then if he/she has any brain, they will lower their price to a point that the market accepts and then everyone is happy. Result - no hold back of innovation. But, if you feel that having to pay *anything* for an idea (that someone else would have though of given enough time) is holding back innovation, then the only solution to that is doing away with the patent system entirely. But, then that might also hold back innovation because there will no longer be a big incentive for anyone to come up with new ideas.

    Just another inventor voicing my thoughts on this issue...

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