Ah, I think I have to check in with my doctor for a foot-in-mouth syndrome that I think I am experiencing. Maybe I should visit a psychiatrist. Because although I have been defending the software patent system simply from a business owner’s point of view in numerous of my previous posts, even I have to confess now that the issues that come with it seem to outweigh all benefits. Still, I will hold my own patents too, because, well, at this moment it is the world we live in and one of the rules the IT world plays by – and so I am actually being part of keeping this patent problem in a vicious circle.
Why do I support the software patent concept? Simple; you come up with a great idea, and it takes time to work things out, you want to be safeguarded that no-one steals your idea. It is a noble system – by design – and helps out inventors to make sure that what is their baby, is their baby. And, by default, a patent holds up for 5 years. Again, this is the concept of the patent system.
Now, the problem is, patent actually hold up for much, much longer. Which is wrong. Patents are there to give you a protected time-frame to work out your idea, market it as first, and give you an edge over the competition. Once it is public, after the 5 years, they are considered common concepts, and other manufacturers can use it too.
This is a very good concept. 5 years pushes the inventor to do something with their ideas, and it prevents people from becoming patent-trolls (people or companies who register ideas, but not do anything with it, simply with the idea to receive license deals). Also, you actually can hold a patent for much, much longer than the initial 5 years, which makes the concept of holding a patent without doing anything with it much easier. In other words; have a good concept, do nothing and wait until someone has the same concept and ask for license fees or sue the heck out of them.
And the initial, say about, $5,000 patent costs are enough for people like you and I to think carefully before you patent something. You also want to really have a good idea, and don’t patent the more dubious ideas you might have. But if you have enough money to burn, $5,000 is nothing. Apple, with their $100 billion stashed in some vault, can file new patents every day without every going broke, and many with them.
And that is where it gets ugly. Patents themselves have become big business. Where patents were invented to help and protect businesses, they have now become the weapons to actively fight competition or drain money out of them.
Look at the Samsung vs. Apple battle. It started interesting, and now has become this soap opera that simply is going on for too long. Not only that, now LG is going to court to fight Samsung for patent infringement on the Galaxy S III and the Note. And then there is Apple vs. Google and so on, and so on. Everything comes to a screeching halt. Reading the IT updates daily has become more an episode of Law & Order than anything else.
Not only is it boring, for me as a business owner, being a player in this huge game is getting less attractive, because there are so many unwritten rules you have to play by. Before you know it, you are not allowed to use a log-in box on your website anymore without paying heaps of money.
Of course, a judge will rule if a certain patent holds up. I remember the court case in the late ’90s about using the hyperlink in websites, and that the owner of the patent wanted to sue websites all over for the use of hyperlinks. Of course, the judge ruled against this.
But court is expensive. Even holding a patent makes the normal guy think twice before suing someone. But if you have the money, it is like buying more money with less money. I mean, if you know you could get $100,000 and you have to invest $10,000 to get it, it sounds like a good deal, no?
Well, you do have to have $10,000 first, because there is always the risk of not getting the $100,000. And what then? In these economic times a lot of small business owners do not have the means to get $10,000, even if it means the possibility of $100,000.
And because of this, big companies or patent-trolls can play this game, destroy the playing field, while real inventors think twice even before wanting to play this game now.
If Apple can hold a patent for the rounder-corner device design… what are we then talking about? If you can patent the way of how one program can get information from another program by XML… why does anyone even wants to do anything online anymore. There are too many risks.
Now, not everyone is suing everyone. There are now even companies, also like Apple, Google and Microsoft (and many more) that actually patent ideas to keep them safe. Not with the ideas to get money for them, but to prevent patent-trolling with them. It sounds generous, but, lets face it, it is kind of weird solution to the problem; patent trolling to prevent patent trolling.
A patent should be reduced again to its basics. 5 years, non-transferable protections of ideas. After 5 years… all is a fair game. It is like ordering a box of cupcakes for the office, everyone gets one. But if one is still left by the end of the workday, that cupcake is fair game for everyone.
Hmmm…. wait a minute… do you think anyone actually patented the patent? Muwhahaha! Everyone, discard this whole posting… I AM GOING TO BE STINKIN’ RICH!!!!!