One of the more annoying things about the whole debate on patent reform is that some have tried to position it as "small companies" vs. "big companies." That's not even close to true. While there have been plenty of high profile fights between patent holders vs. big companies, that's only a small part of the issue. And, in fact, it's often smaller, more innovative companies that are the most harmed by patents. Joe Mullin has a great post looking at how small mom-and-pop photo sharing sites are being hit with a bunch of patent infringement lawsuits
. Basically, a few different companies are all claiming that they own patents on the ideas behind photo hosting online. But, of course, since the idea is so obvious, there are a lot
of photo hosting sites out there, including many run as small businesses. Yet, they're getting hit by patent infringement claims which seem ridiculous to them. But... since the cost of going to court (or, even getting a patent lawyer to talk to them) is so outrageous, some are choosing to settle -- even though it's taking away from being able to do valuable
things, like invest in the business. It's a sad story of patent holders (often with no product being offered themselves) harming lots of small businesses.
This is a big issue. Whenever the rather vocal group of angry inventors show up in our comments defending the patent system at all costs as being "necessary" for "the little guy" they seem to conveniently ignore all the "little guys" harmed by the patent system. What about the guy who thought the idea was obvious and didn't bother to get a patent, but now has to fight off an infringement suit by someone who did get a patent on the idea? What about the guy who invented the same thing just slightly later, but understands the market better and can do a better job bringing the product to market? What about the guy who can put a bunch of different ideas together to make a much better product, but is unable to because multiple patent holders all want a huge % of his earnings? Time and time again we hear stories of small businesses who feel the patent system is holding them back in significant ways -- and it's a true shame.