Please don’t Beat People with Sticks made out of Patent Applications

Recently I’ve seen a lot of negative press around the whole patents concept.  Slashdotters, for example, go crazy whenever someone throws them a bone of an example like “One click shopping”.  Imagine if someone actually read through the several thousand patents filed each year by tech heavyweights like IBM or Microsoft.  I can’t even fathom the breadth of patents large corporations must cover each year.  This blog must be patented in there somewhere.  An article in Wired predicts that patents could be the downfall of the American tech industry. 

I’ll admit there are probably a bunch of patents that were reviewed by people skilled at the art of the rubber stamp, but that should not diminish the spirit of the concept.  Creativity, especially around software, needs to be rewarded if we are to move into the next phase of the digital revolution.  The actual development of software itself, much like the American industries of old, is something that can now be done much cheaper outside of the US.  The whole concept of high level languages and developer tools in general is to make the software writing a process more simple manufacturing and less creative.  No need for all the high priced labor here in the US to do that. 

So if you can’t make money here in the US doing the actual development of software the movement must be towards development of ideas that can be implemented in software. Isn’t that the fun part anyway, in perfecting your concepts and the intricacies of your grand design?  As an example from my own world as a software design engineer in testing I’ve always enjoyed developing the creative ideas around how to test the particular piece of software rather than the actual software testing itself.  Continuously writing tons of similar scripted tests is also not enjoyed by all just because it involves some if statements.  I’d argue that the higher art of designing a system that does the testing faster, with less input, and less boring scripting is more fun, creative, and thus should be more rewarding in the end. 

Back to the patent concept.  It’s cliché, but guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  The good or evil of a patent is not in the patent itself, but rather the application of the patent.  For example: Amazon could have received the patent for the One Click Shopping, but then opened the concept for anyone to use while still holding the patent.  Conversely the patent would allow them to beat anyone with a government stick, keep their invention to themselves, and not allow for a level competitive playing field.  On the middle ground they could license the concept out for a fair price to other online retailers in order to both share and be rewarded for their invention. (For the sake of argument I’ll assume they actually did invent it.)

Patents also don’t prohibit innovation they are simply recognition of singular innovations.  Giving someone a patent for hosting applications in a web browser, for example, does not mean that you can’t go out and create something better than a lame web browser for people’s shopping and information retrieval needs if the patent holder restricts you from using their system.  From what I can see, most of you are reading this through an RSS aggregator.  It’s a better solution.  So go out, be creative, file for legitimate (yes, the government should stop rubber stamping everything for this to work) patents when applicable, and get rewarded for your creativity while still promoting innovations.  Just don’t beat people with sticks when they don’t deserve it

Comments (13)

  1. moo says:

    You mean patents like this on card games are good?

    You are seriously warped if you support such patents.

  2. moo says:

    I think I should patent RSS feeds under the term "A method to create intelligent bookmarks that notify the user of a change to the page".

  3. jledgard says:

    Well, that’s my record fastest reply to one of my posts. Perhaps you misunderstood what I was going after. The spirit of the concept is where the value is. The current problems with the system come from both the patent office approving too much bs and companies selectively choosing to abuse the rights the patents give them.

  4. moo says:

    You can hail the "spirt" of the system all you want, doesn’t change the fact thats its abused and broken all for a quick buck. I guess thats capatilism for you.

  5. jledgard says:

    Correct, I think I state pretty clearly that the current system is broken. The whole “brainfart” I had here was simply that there is value in the concept that shouldn’t be overlooked. If you invest your creativity and invent something revolutionary shouldn’t you have the right to pursue it? If the system was working correctly it would also protect individuals who innovate as well as it does the large corporations.

  6. moo says:

    You have submarine patents, defensive patents, offensive patents… where are the real patents?

    Another problem is the cost of actually patenting to the point that only those that abuse such systems can afford to use it.

    Same thing happened to the internet, its now being abused for a quick buck.

  7. Linus Concepcion says:

    I too disagree with this post. patents may have been a good idea back when the concept was to protect the small inventor from the big-bad corporation that could swallow their market.

    the reality today is the opposite. a vast majority of patents are generated by think-tank arms of large corporations, who’se main purpose is to patent first, monetize later. these are hardly companies that need protection from competition.

    there are exceptions i’m sure… but i still haven’t seen much news over the little guy using well earned patents to protect their ideas from being co-opted by the big bad bully…

    oh wait, there is a recent one–Eolas vs. Microsoft! bad example?? yes. bad system? definitely.

    my 2 cents.

  8. jledgard says:

    Who knew I even had two readers? What if I hadn’t used the evil “patent” word and simply wrote this as a plea that there is value in trying to protect the IP of both the big corporations and the “little guy” and just because the current system is flawed doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be rules in place to do that.

  9. Linus Concepcion says:

    i’m surprised you haven’t gotten more responses with such a hot-topic word, and your blog being mirrored in

    in any case, i get what you are saying… we all agree on the value of rewarding invention and innovation.

    sometimes though, some rules may be built with real good intentions in mind, but in the real-world, and over time, prove to do more harm than good (and i don’t count lining patent lawyers pockets with money as good)..

    the current model is so flawed that in my opinion, we’re probably better off without any system–rather than having the one we have.

    innovation and inventions happened long before the patent office existed, and continues to happen today in places where patents don’t apply.

  10. jledgard says:

    Well, I intend on going through the process myself soon as “The Little Guy” so I’ll certainly blog about my experiences along the way.

  11. Dennis says:

    Why should Amazon own one-click shopping? Why should that be their property? The problem is not that Amazon enforces their patent. The problem is that we are granting so many trivial patents that you don’t have a right to your own ideas anymore. A hundred people can do something new in the same way, without ever hearing about each other, just because the idea is simple and its time has come. But under our current system, only one person has the right to use the idea. I consider that fundamentally wrong.

  12. Most I’ve seen is not against all patents, rather against _Software_ patents.

    The purpose of patents, as stated in the US constitution, is to promote innovation and production. Recently, thanks to the "property" in "Intellectual Property" a few "IP owners" are alleging that its purpose is to protect rights to profit (which should be a consequence of the primary purpose). When patents serve to stifle innovation they are acting opposite to their intended mode.

    Patents used to protect inventions and patenting ideas was not contemplated (because it discourages innovation rather than promoting it). Recent changes in patent laws provide patent protection to items that are practically ideas (xxx over internet, xxx over wireless, xxx over RSS…) and this has upset the previous balance. It is this change that is being critiziced. These changes didn’t occur worldwide. The US is pressuring other countries to adopt similar changes. That is another reason why these changes are under heavier scrutiny than before.

    Remember the tale of the golden-egg goose. If you change the laws and get an explosion of patents in a certain field today but effectively you kill most innovation in that same field for the next 20 years, is that promoting overall wealth more or less than the previous status quo? It is not an easy balance, overall wealth is not promoted by forcing everybody to give everything away for free ("Atlas Shrugged" nicely depicts the failure of such an extreme) but limited monopolies are a powerful weapon and can do much more harm than good when granted too easily.