Thoughts on patents ?>

Thoughts on patents

After reading Simon Overell’s thoughts on patents I wanted to follow suit and share my own thoughts on the issue. I generally liked Simon’s argumentation. I do sympathize with the argument that patents have a merit for, in many cases, “allowing companies and individuals to benefit from investments in research and development”. At the same time I agree that the current patenting practices have created a dysfunctional patenting system and a culture change is needed. I have great respect for the courageous people who dare to disclose their un-patented ideas, safe in the knowledge that their competence in implementation outweighs benefit of legal protection.

Before I continue, I must state a disclaimer that I am no patent expert and this post is nothing but some thoughts from a computer scientist who has been involved in the filing of a few patents. Also, this piece of writing is not meant to be a self-contained account of the state of the patenting system, but rather I am just chipping my five cents into the more global discussion.

In my view, the patenting system is one of too many examples where our modern society is blindly following laws, regulations and cultural norms a the cost of common sense. We (the technology industry … I included), file patents the way we file patents because that’s simply the way we file patents. Don’t blame us (the industry as a whole) because we are just doing what they (the industry as a whole) do.

In my, albeit limited, patent writing experience there are several points that have stuck out and made me particularly sceptical about the sanity of the current patenting practices.

First, it seems that companies are willing to invest in the filing of almost anything. I refer to Simon’s thoughts for an elaboration of this point. This is likely to lead to a less transparent system where it is hard to identify real value from the rubbish.

Second, I think it is important for companies to take a close look at their incentive schemes for protection of intellectual property. While it is worthwhile to reward employees financially for contributing to the intellectual property of the company, I believe that the common scheme of patent filing/granted bonuses encourages filing of weak or worthless patents.

Third, I find quite counter intuitive the tendency to phrase patents as general as possible. If patents are meant to protect the ideas that the inventors thought of, why are patents written in such a way that they surely also cover what the inventors did not think of? While this may make perfect legal sense, to me, it lacks common sense. I sometimes get the feeling that instead of protecting one’s ideas, patents are intended to protect against ideas of others.

I am aware that in this point I have only outlined what I consider flaws of the patenting culture, but not proposed any solutions. Bare with me that I am not an expert in the case and those were just my five cents.

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