The Killer of Innovation: Patents

Ryan Matthew Pierson recently wrote an article titled Patent Wars: Enough is Enough, where he expresses his discontent with the current patent system. In the article he calls for change to the patent system and points to several of its flaws: the most major problem being that patent laws are different in every country. Laws concerning patents in the US are slightly different in Switzerland; the same issue arises with the patent laws in Sweden, Bulgaria, Brazil, and so forth. Patents do present a big problem, but the biggest problem is usually overlooked: patents are the killer of innovation. Before we continue, let’s make sure we’re all clear on what a patent is and what it is not.

What a Patent Is

A patent provides protection for an invention to the owner of the patent. The protection of a patent generally lasts 20 years in the US. Imagine that I create a new device that allows me to overclock my processor with no chance of damage coming to it. I can patent this new idea and technology to make it impossible for someone else to use, sell, or replicate.

What a Patent Isn’t

A patent is not a copyright. A copyright gives the creator of original work exclusive rights to the work. This means that, if I write a play, no one can act out my play or use it in any other way without my consent; the play would be mine and no one else’s.

The Real Problem

The Killer of Innovation: PatentsThe differences between a patent and a copyright are now very clear. If something is patented, no one can replicate my idea in any way, but if I have something copyrighted, no one can claim what I have created as his or her own. The true problem here is that it is possible to commit patent infringement without the knowledge of doing so. Someone else can independently have the idea to create the aforementioned technology (to patent an overclocking device) and act upon that idea, but because I have the idea and technology patented, they cannot create their device. Copyright infringement, however, is knowingly committed. Someone has to know that they are claiming my technology as their own; they also have to know that they are selling my technology or using it without my permission. It is impossible to unwillingly commit copyright infringement.

As a result of patents restricting ideas to one individual or company, rapid innovation is nearly impossible. A good example of this is the recent lawsuit between Oracle and Google in which Oracle claimed that Google infringed upon two patents (RE38,104 and 6,061,520) regarding Java with its Android software. Patent 6,061,520 claimed for Oracle the idea and technology of a new way to statically initialize an array in order to free up memory. Patent RE38,104 claimed the idea and technology for Oracle of new interpretation and handling routines inside of the Java Virtual Machine.

It was determined that Google hadn’t infringed upon the patents. Although this was determined, the company did use these ideas to make Android faster and better. These two patents almost made this innovation in the smartphone industry impossible. Google did win that lawsuit, but what are the odds that it will make another product and then be accused of patent infringement once more?

Patents directly restrict creativity and innovation. Why should something stop me from creating a technology that protects overclocked processors just because someone else may have had the idea first? What if I am the best person to protect processors, but I am not able to because someone thought of it before me? Patents are making the tech world crawl instead of run. If patents affect the tech world so greatly, what other forms of innovation could be at a standstill? A simple solution to this devastating problem would be to eliminate the patent system completely and accept that people should not be able to claim ownership over ideas. Could the world be a better place without the protection of intellectual “property?” It looks as though we will never know.

I’m Jared Moats. Technology is my anchor, my drug, and my lifeline. It can be an expensive hobby, but somehow I manage. When I am not attending school, I am trying to find my next fix; writing just happens to be part of my high.

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  • Brett Trout

    No one has ownership over ideas.

    Patents do not protect ideas, they merely protect one very narrow embodiment of a particular idea. To obtain patent protection, that one very narrow embodiment of a particular idea has to not only be novel, but also has to be non-obvious in light of everything else that was invented before.

    While there are cases where patent trolls abuse the system, they are a call to fix the patent system, rather than toss it wholesale. Without a quid pro quo in the form of a limited patent monopoly, many inventors are simply not going to go to the trouble of developing their inventions.

    There are laudable arguments as to how we should fix the patent system. Arguments for the wholesale demise of the patent system are, however, not something that can be taken seriously.

  • Cobra

    I don’t see patents as a bad thing personally. If people can’t copy your ideas/creations directly they are then forced to think more for them selves and come up with a more innovative alternative instead of just a rebranded carbon copy.

  • zolar

    I feel that patents and copyright times frames are obscenely excessive.
    Neither should last more than 3 years – period.

    Just think of all the wonderful things people could make, do, have, and cure if both legal shields were reduced to 3 years.

    Copyrights can last forever. At least patents die after a while.

    The Viagra patent is about to expire soon. It will provide serious financial relief to all those who need it. And force Cialis and Levitra to drop their prices considerably.
    Did you know that any of those can cost a whopping $22/pill?

    Copyrights – anything intangible like software should not be allowed to get either copyright or patent protection.

    Just far too much GREED in the world.

    Let’s start over and this time use some common sense in law making that favors the people and not corporate (or any other) greed.

  • sdeforest

    In a recent post, I suggested that patent length should somehow mirror the lifetime of value rather than one size fits all. But even that does not address the perversion of the intent of the patent process by modern companies. You cannot blame them. They are playing by the rules. The rules are bad.