Why dislike patents?

June 21, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Entrepreneurship

Here’s something I wrote in response to someone who wrote about patents, confused why so many people, especially people who work in technology, are coming to dislike patents. I find people who don’t work with patents have models about them that don’t fit with how businesses use them today, their effects, and how and why we created them in the first place.

The first quote is a question I read that I decided to answer. The rest is my response. In case anyone forgets, I’ve written several patents and co-founded and work at a company that fundamentally depends on those patents. I don’t claim patents are bad. I’m only answering the person’s question.

What is with all the hate for patents? Should a company not be allowed to profit off its ingenuity?

Not sure if you’re trying to imply the only way a company can profit from its ingenuity is through patents. If so, you’d be wrong. Companies have plenty of ways to profit without patents.

If you were implying patents are one way they can profit from their ingenuity, they do so in some markets, but at a cost. They don’t only have one effect. They have side-effects whose costs many believe rival or outweigh their benefits, at least in many areas. Side-effects include patent trolls, enabling companies and groups of companies with patent pools to stifle innovation with protracted legal battles without dubious merit but bleed the small company dry, creating monopolies that seek to extend themselves, and more.

In other markets their effects may not even have that benefit. Patenting software seems to me outside the original intents of patents and doesn’t seem to be improving software writing.

But the biggest issue is that if a government grants patents to ideas, it takes away rights from everybody else. That’s why the purpose of patents is not just to enable some people to profit at everybody else’s expense. Their purpose, at least in the U.S. as described in the Constitution, is to promote useful innovation. Only if society in general benefits would most people accept their rights taken away for someone else’s profit. I don’t know about you, but I think most people think government’s laws should help society in general, balancing different people’s interests — not just to create profit for ingenuity but to balance private profit incentive with society benefiting.

If you only look at profit, you miss the point of the government-granted temporary monopolies called patents. The law is designed to promote useful innovation to society. If society doesn’t benefit, there seems a strong case that somewhere along the way patents got changed and aren’t meeting their legal intent.

Many businesses and industries thrive without patents. There are probably industries that patents helped create through helping companies profit off their ingenuity and may have had trouble starting without them. There are also industries in which patent law’s intent got perverted and is stifling useful innovation.

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