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Ubuntu's Mark Shuttleworth Predicts That Countries Who Limit Patents Will Have More Innovation

from the but-of-course dept

The BBC has an interesting article about Mark Shuttleworth and Ubuntu, and some of the innovations Canonical is working on. There's some good stuff in there, but what caught my attention was the bit at the end about patents:
"We know that we are sort of dancing naked through a minefield and there are much bigger institutions driving tanks through," Mr Shuttleworth says.

"It's basically impossible to ship any kind of working software without potentially trampling on some patent somewhere in the world, and it's completely impossible to do anything to prevent that.

"The patents system is being used to slow down a lot of healthy competition and that's a real problem. I think that the countries that have essentially figured that out and put hard limits on what you can patent will in fact do better."
Of course, this is the exact opposite of what the patent system is supposed to do -- but pretty much everyone who's actually innovating these days seems to recognize the same thing. What amazes me is that we haven't seen more of what Mark hints at towards the very end: countries providing explicit safe havens around patents. We have examples of this in the past -- perhaps most famously, the Netherlands and Switzerland in the latter half of the 19th century. The Netherlands dumped patents entirely, while the Swiss limited what was patentable massively (to the point that very little was considered patentable at all). And both countries saw economic growth as a result -- where industry and innovation flocked to both countries because they weren't being held back by patent disputes.

It does seem that perhaps some folks in the Netherlands remember this. There's an ongoing effort called the Appsterdam Foundation (in Amsterdam, of course), where part of the goal is to help protect app makers from crazy patent lawsuits. But I'm waiting for even more recognition from countries that this is a real growth opportunity. Assuming that countries have the nerves to withstand having the US taunt them each year with placement on the Special 301 list, there's a real opportunity for a developed nation to have innovation show up in droves by massively limiting patents.

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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 10 May 2012 @ 4:06pm

    Re: Hmmm.

    We have to be careful when comparing things between cultures.

    I work with India developers daily, and one of the main differences is that Indian developers generally aren't looking to stay developers for their entire careers. Being a developer is considered a stepping-stone into management, and if you remain a developer for more than a handful of years, you're generally viewed as being unsuccessful. In the US, it's totally acceptable and normal to be a developer for your entire career.

    This means that there are a lot fewer deeply experienced developers in India.

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