Andrew Ducker (andrewducker) wrote,
Andrew Ducker
andrewducker

Making patents better

I am full of stupid ideas this week. This one has been percolating for a while, and I'm finally spurred into sharing it by the latest fuckwittery in the patent wars - whereby Apple has had to remove the iPhone and iPad from its online store in Germany (see here).

The great thing about patents is that they give companies a good reason to both carry out R&D, and to share the results openly. They then get a limited period to use the patents exclusively, and at the end of the period everyone else then gets to use the public knowledge. Theoretically it's a win-win situation - enforced monopoly + public knowledge.

The awful thing about patents is that they're frequently used to enforce a wider monopoly - if you want to get into the computer processors then you have no choice but to license patents from numerous companies already making them, because they've already cross-licensed them from each other, and now basically have a cosy cartel that nobody else can get into unless they feel like letting them in. This leads to situations like the current one where Apple and Samsung are throwing patents at each other in an attempt to lock them out of the market - and frankly not only are most of these patents overly broad*, but they're also frequently invalid - in use before they were patented. But small companies can't afford to fight this through the courts.

I have two possible solutions to this. They're entirely independent, so no complaining if the two of them don't work well together.

1) An anti-patent alliance. Get a few large companies together, and they all agree - entirely openly - that they will not use their patents on anyone else in the alliance. Additionally, if someone outside of the alliance uses a patent against one of them then the entirety of their patent pools will be used against this one company. Now, in some ways this _is_ cartel behaviour, except for the fact that it's entirely open - anyone can join. I suspect this would cause major heart palpitations across the tech industry, a lot of publicity, and politicians stamping their feet. But it might also cause a major rethink of patents, which would be a good thing.

2) Firewalls. If the companies can't be trusted to behave like adults then they can't look after their own patents. All patents must be sold off to a company which does not do work inside the industry. That company must then license it out to all people for exactly the same terms. So if Siemens comes up with the patent for "Batteries that last for weeks, even if you use your phone all the damn time" then that's great - they sell it on to AwesomeCorp for millions of dollars, and AwesomeCorp then license it to everyone at whatever cost seems reasonable to them. Siemens make their cash, and anyone can sell phones which last for a decent amount of time - it's a winner for everyone.

Now, tell me why neither of these would ever work :->

*i.e. they cover things like "Using a finger to press a button that causes the phone to make a call"



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