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), 20 Jul 2005 @ 2:25pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Interesting points. Some quick responses...

    1. Ok. We're agreed. That one was easy. :)

    2. You're right to think that this would wipe out a lot of patents. However, I'm curious how you think it's fair for a company to have a monopoly right over an idea that someone else comes up with independently? I can agree with you if there's evidence that someone used the idea from within a patent and used that to do something... but if the idea was developed entirely independently, what's the real value in rewarding whoever filed first (especially when first may not be better)?

    3. Actually, quite the opposite. It seems like, these days, it's often the smaller, more nimble companies, who are better able to bring ideas to market in innovative ways. And, by the way, nothing I'm talking about precludes the idea of licensing. Instead of "licensing" though, it may be looked upon more like "hiring" whoever came up with the idea to help a different company bring it to market.

    4. Your points all sound good in theory but aren't reflected in reality. What's actually happening is that companies who have patents on ideas that are obvious are more or less extorting money out of those who are actually bringing them to market in innovative ways.

    So, as you say, let the market decide and let it self-regulate. If you can build a business case for your invention the market will come to you. If you can't, let someone else do it. However, allowing the first person to come up with an idea to put up tollbooths because he or she can't figure out how to actually bring the product to market seems unnecessarily harmful to those who can bring it to market.

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