The Great Patent Race

New patent office opening soon in Silicon Valley, and everyone is cheering. The viral ignorance is it'll make it easier for all those young entrepreneurs at Stanford and such to get their ideas protected from corporate thieves, enabling them to launch their start-ups and shed their inventions of technology upon the world.

The truth is, more and more patents will prevent technology from being actualized, limiting new technology and inventions to only those that can afford to submit, pay for, protect, and defend their patents.

Case in point:
A developer friend works for a growing tech start-up which has been aggressively filing patents for the last couple of years. He and his colleagues are encouraged to write patents on all their ideas, in fact, he gets a substantial bonus for every patent he writes for the company no matter how obscure or feasible they are. Patents are granted on ideas [with methodology for execution] alone. They do NOT need to be tested or functioning ideas, or even in the process of development. The start-up my friend works for spends in the range of $10,000-$30,000 in filing, bonuses and legal fees on each patent for the following reasons:
--More patents make the company more valuable to investors.
--Patents on their ideas gives the company time to develop them, if they choose to do so.
--Patenting ideas protects the company from anyone else actualizing them in the near [or sometimes distant] future.
--Patent protection enables the company to protect themselves against future infringement suits, and counter-sue for frivolous claims.

The tech company gets to protect their designs from anyone else developing anything even similar to their patented ideas, initially for 14 yrs after the date the patent was granted; or 20 yrs from filing date for virtually everything else, and can be renewed with extensions for many years to come. All the company needs is money to pay for the lawyers to defend existing and pending patents. Very few start-ups have this kind of cash, even fewer inventors have the resources to compete with, challenge or defend against Apple or Microsoft.

Apple spends millions annually, suing Google, Motorola, Samsung and many other large and small companies for patent infringement to prevent other businesses from creating a competitive market for Apple.* But they are not alone. Large corporations to trending start-ups are playing the patent game, spawning hindrance of progressive innovation. My friend's tech company is growing rapidly, and are fighting more and more Patent Trolls, about four a week now, that's 200 yearly, suing them for patent infringements, not only for the settlements, but to hinder development.

The patent race is running rampant in the Valley now, and another patent office is not necessarily a good thing without stricter regulations on what is patentable. From my friend's venture-backed tech start-up to Apple and Google, tougher restrictions on term length protections and curbing frivolous lawsuits meant to stall progress are necessary for the role of the patent to spark invention and innovation on a mass, multilateral scale, as the patent was originally meant to.


*Steve Jobs ripped off the initial idea for the first Apple computer from Xerox PARC, and the MP3 player from Creative Technologies and who knows what else, yet Apple aggressively plays the patent game that restrict others from pursing creation of even vaguely similar technologies. 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. The downside to patents seems, at this point, to be out-weighing their advantages.

The original idea behind a patent was to give an inventor some time to benefit from their investment of time and money in creating an invention. With software and process patents in particular, it is often the case that very little time and money precede the patent. I believe these should not be patentable.

Further, until fairly recently, a patent had to result in a tangible object. We should return to this as well.

patent agent delaware said...

Good reading. Patents are good since it helps protect inventors against fraud and low quality imitations