Intellectual Property is Meaningless

Someone needed to say it – Patents are a joke – companies are waging wars against one another over meaningless software patents. I heard last week (have not confirmed it) that IBM makes $1 Billion (thats with a “B”) a year in licensing their patents to other companies …


I know what you are saying, 1 Billion Dollars (pinky finger at the corner of my mouth) is not chump change. Right, but patents are no longer doing what they were meant to do, improve progress. That’s right, patents were conceived to protect companies that spent millions of dollars to invent new technologies or systems or processes – protect them from others from unduly profiting from their investment. 

Now patents are mostly used as a protective measure … “You sue me for patent infringement and I’ll sue you right back for infringing on one of my patents” – What’s worse? These patents are on technologies that require no investment to invent, just an idea. Let me say that again – You can patent an idea, a sketch, a concept, a process. Why is this bad? Because everyone and their brother has a good idea. It is not the idea that is valuable, it is the ability to execute on the idea. I’ve seen so many great ideas go absolutely nowhere, millions of dollars thrown at them and nothing – We are no longer valuing progress.

For example, Tim O’Reilly is famously credited for lambasting Amazon for their litigious patent attitudes. I recall, about 5 years ago, a small marketing company patented the ability to show one thing in flash, and print another thing (like showing an offer in the banner ad and when the user clicks ‘print’ a coupon spits out of your printer— this was a feature BUILT INTO THE FLASH PLAYER … They actually patented a feature in someone else’s software and it got through the patent office – what a joke!

It was recently announced that Apple is being sued (again) for intellectual property infringement. A scottish firm claims prior art on something they conceived years ago.  Something about how the “pinch zoom” works on photography.  My question to that company: “So if this idea was so valuable, why the hell did you do nothing with it? Why did you wait for Apple to execute on it only to sue them for the privilege?”…

I’m no patent attorney, but we MUST change our patent laws to value progress, not just ideas. I know this is not an uncommon topic, so why is nobody doing anything about it? OBAMA WHERE ARE YOU????

  1. James said:

    I like the way that Apple have patented gestures as a method of interaction (like drawing an arrow to play, or wiping your cursor across the screen to scroll) and Microsoft have patented object recognition – both set to go to war over the next breed of surface computers.

    Nothing like stifling innovation.

  2. Flug said:

    On the next time i will compile patends for every character of the alphabet.And than after this great invention everybode on this earth must pay if he writes something.
    Patents are realy realy half-baked…

  3. Erik said:

    There’s been a great deal of discussion about reforming the patent system, but it’s a very, very tangled subject.

    You can’t patent “an idea, a sketch, a concept, a process.” You can’t patent an idea. You can’t patent a sketch. You can patent a process, method, or manufacture.

    You’re also conflating patentability with issuance of patents. The USPTO has been justly accused of issuing too many bad patents. But that’s a matter of improving the USPTO.

    One of the underpinnings of the patent system is the notion that patents stimulate progress by forcing competitors to route around patents. That’s why patents must be fully disclosed; competitors have to know the parameters of what a patent holder controls, so they can route around it. Admittedly in some industries the modern patent system has stifled innovation, but the constraints imposed by patents arguably contribute to innovation in many areas.

  4. Anonymous said:

    patents should be deleted if you do not implement your patent within a certain amount of time which is proportional to the complexity of your patent.
    The claims section should contain the time to implement and it should also be attached to the time a patent pending is valid.

  5. Erik said:

    Including “time to implement” provisions would be counterproductive. Figuring out how long it will take to bring a patented concept to market is extremely difficult, particularly for solo inventors, who have much less reliable access to funding than big companies. Also consider that ownership of a particular patent does not guarantee ability to bring *any* product to market, especially where there are interlocking patent thickets around that patent. The patent is not a right to produce an invention. It is a right to prohibit others from using your invention. That right gives the owner the ability to license the invention, which is how many smaller patent creators survive.

    Larger companies see the patent, realize that it has value for their business, and they license the rights to use the patent. If the smaller inventor were forced to bring a product to market, countless inventions would sit unused until the inventor “timed out” at which point the larger companies would pounce on and use the invention.

    Determining the “complexity” of a patent (whether referring to the patent itself or to the underlying invention) is essentially a fool’s errand. It would add another layer of subjective analysis to an already convoluted practice. The complexity would have to be judged as an aspect of the “practitioner reasonably skilled in the art” analysis which as recent events has shown, is a highly subjective exercise.

    A simpler method would be to limit the duration of patents, cutting it to 10 years, for example. This would decrease some of the leverage held by patent trolls, and would serve as an incentive for any patent holder to make good use of the patent (either by bringing a product to market or licensing the invention), rather than sitting on it for years and years.

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