2014-10-28

Breaking the patent system by making liberal use of patents.

It is no secret that I am no fan of patents.  Although the original idea was a good one (make sure inventions were shared), people tend to forget that the patent system was created a long time ago.  A very, very long time ago.  It is hardly relevant for the pace at which all industries move at today.

In fact, if you can still find an industry that doesn't have a high innovation pace:  that industry is likely to experience disruption in the near future.

Innovation- and development/iteration speed are just two underlying parameters that look nothing like they did hundreds of years ago.   But the most important parameter that has changed is that the nature of the predators that prey on those who want to make things.

It is now a legitimate business proposition to do absolutely nothing but collect patents and then extort companies and people without the necessary funds to defend themselves.

The top-of-the-foodchain-predator is today is either a solidly funded, large corporation with an army of patent lawyers, ready to unleash a heavily skewed justice system upon you -- or the patent troll.  Which is usually ditto well funded since they pick on the weak first to bankroll taking on bigger fish later.  People like Nathan Myhrvold, who already has more money than Croesus, but still takes time out of his busy schedule to shake down the weak and defenseless for money.

Despite having written a brilliant book on Modernist Cuisine (which I own), he is still a villain and I still think he epitomizes what is standing in the way of innovation today. (Funny how Microsoft bred so many, for lack of a better word, assholes among the top brass, yet the founder appears to focus on allowing his wealth to do the maximum amount of good...).

So one question that has been on my mind lately is "how can we help make patents more obviously irrelevant faster?".

I got the idea from a friend of mine who routinely studies patents to come up with solutions for his own, personal projects.

Personally, I try not to read patents if I can help it.  I'm shaped by working for companies like Google, where knowledge of a non-company patent is seen as a huge risk.  Were I to come up with something clever, I don't want there to be reason to believe that I was informed by existing patents.  I have thus far treated patents like I would treat seepage from a nuclear facility:  I have stayed far, far away.

But I think it may be time to re-evaluate that approach.  I think it might be time to encourage hobbyists and makers to make as liberal use of patents in their own personal projects as possible. And to freely share any information that may help other people implement patented technologies.

Like 3D models that can be turned into product.  I'm not sure you can be legally faulted for reproducing an interpretive work of a document, though I may be wrong.  And even if I am not wrong, the courts where patent predators do their litigation have a very strong bias towards the patent holder.

There are technologies that makes this feasible.  Like 3D printing.  And I am not talking about the current crop of hot-snot-dispensing FDM-printers, but stuff that you can use to print metal parts.   The stuff that a lot of startups are scrambling to get into the hands of consumers in not that many years.   If something is covered by a patent,  and if enough people manufacture the object themselves:  you might be able to put a big dent in the patent industry because it would be financially infeasible to go after the infringers.

Just look at the price of mechanical parts for cars.  Within short you should be able to print these at prices affordable to private citizens.  And eventually:  cheaper than the part sells for today.

A typical name brand turbo (which is a pretty hairy component to make) costs about $1500.  How long before you can print a turbo below that cost in the privacy of your home? 10 years?

The idea is to de-value patents by making it financially infeasible to take would-be infringers to court.   Both because they are so many and because most of them will have no assets worth going after.  For several classes of patents this is now possible.   Within short, this will be possible for more classes of patents.

Waiting around for (corrupt) politicians to sensibly reform, or better yet:  abolish patents altogether, is not a winning strategy.  It won't happen without significant pressure.  It is high time that pressure was applied.

And of course, lobbyists will attack the enablers for massive scale patent infringement -- by demanding whole technologies be subject to stringent regulation.  Well, good luck with that.

1 comment:

  1. I think it is a somewhat flawed assumption that this will break the patent system. Large corporations will pick infringers they can go after profitably. The might choose to make an example of some smaller infringers, who will then live in uncertainty. In the end nothing has changed.

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