Sunday, August 29, 2010

Does our patent system need an overhaul?

In 500 BC, in the Greek city of Sybaris (located in what is now southern Italy), "encouragement was held out to all who should discover any new refinement in luxury, the profits arising from which were secured to the inventor by patent for the space of a year."
In the USA, a patent is a set of exclusionary rights granted by a state to a patent holder for a limited period of time, usually 20 years. These rights are granted to patent applicants in exchange for their disclosure of the inventions. Once a patent is granted in a given country, no person may make, use, sell or import/export the claimed invention in that country without the permission of the patent holder. Permission, where granted, is typically in the form of a license which conditions are set by the patent owner: it may be gratis or in return for a royalty payment or lump sum fee.

In the modern world the patent system was established to ensure companies or people can earn their money back they did spend to invent their product before other companies will be able to copy these products without spending money for research.
But today many companies are patenting all kind of ideas without even to build a product. They take the patent and put in the drawer till they can sue somebody.
Reading the news we see many lawsuits between Apple, Google, HTC, Microsoft and so one based on patent violation.
As an example, Apple holds over 2000 patents and most of them are even not used in their products.
It seems that it is almost too easy to get patents as long their is enough cash.
As a result small companies can't either afford to patent their invention or if they try it might be already patented by IBM, Apple or Microsoft.
How our system works does not support the original thought to protect. It serves only for companies or people to make money by claiming a patent violation.
We need to rethink how the patent system works to ensure it allows companies to proceed with their products without the fear of copycats.
I believe a patent should not given if this patent is not going to be used in a product.
If you look at a list of most patents you will find people like Thomas Edison (one of the biggest inventors in the US) and Tesla which both together had over 2000 patents. Only a low percentage of these patents are used in their products.

And then the patent system is so weird that a single battery could have over 50 patents. This is too much, it should be more high level. With our existing patent system, I could create a new type of battery using same components like an existing one, change one small part on it and get a new patent. This should stop, I should not be able to get a patent if it not really something different than existing.

The US allows software patents since the 70es even if they solve business problems and not technology problems. Different in Europe, there computer-implemented inventions which only solve a business problem using a computer, rather than a technical problem, are considered unpatentable as lacking an inventive step. Nevertheless, the fact that an invention is useful in business does not mean it is not patentable if it also solves a technical problem.

The European approach helps at least that big companies do not patent something just for the sake of a patent. However smaller companies can not keep their advantage of a special algorithm because they can't patent it.
To patent software is difficult and the people who make the decision might even not know what all the code means. I think software code should not be able to patent, however it should be able to get a copyright as long the author can proof that the code is 100% written and developed by himself.
Maybe code should be handled like books copyright, but not be allowed to be patented.

- Posted using My iPad

Location:Spinning Wheel Ln,Spring Hill,United States

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