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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    Mike (profile), 20 Jul 2005 @ 11:34pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Interesting points. Thank you for bringing them up. I should clarify my position, and my language may have been a bit messy, which I apologize for.

    I'm not against the independent inventor at all. However, I do question why the independent inventor who cannot bring his or her product to market deserves so much credit for a product they can't bring to market. We have a great financial system in place that helps people with good ideas get capital and expertise necessary to turn ideas into products.

    Ideas alone are pretty worthless, because you never really know how valuable they'll be as products. So, I don't believe that rewarding just the idea alone makes sense. If the idea is good, then the inventor should be able to make a business out of it, and will get their payout that way.

    As for the idea that it's the responsibility of someone who comes up with an idea to file a patent, that's hogwash. What if that person only cares about bringing the product to market, and would rather spend the money doing so, instead of giving it to lawyers to patent? Then someone else comes along and patents the idea later, and suddenly they can hold the original product -- the one that's actually going to market -- for ransom. That's hardly encouragin innovation. It's encouraging lawyers' fees.

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