Patents: Money on the Side of the Good Guys

Patents Pending,” by Frank Hayes, ComputerWorld, 2 May 2005, http://computerworld.com/managementtopics/management/story/0,10801,101434,00.html.

CW backpage columnist Frank Hayes thinks the new patent reform law may be a bad idea

Riley is an inventor. He likes patents, and not as a way of preventing anyone from using patented technology. Riley wants people to use his inventions and those of other small inventors. He just wants to get paid for his work.

Is the patent system broken? Riley doesn’t think so. Will the proposed law improve things? Riley ran down a long list of provisions in the new law designed to make it easier for big companies to avoid paying for technologies created by small inventors — something Riley says large vendors are notorious for doing.

Small inventors, big vendors, start-ups, standards organizations and customers all have skin in this game. But according to Riley, the proposed new patent law is full of proposals that benefit big vendors.

For example, making it easier to challenge patents sounds good — who could object to spiking bad patents? But the draft law also makes it easier for deep-pocketed vendors to strangle inventors with legitimate patents, just by outspending them in court. And limiting infringement damages means even if an inventor wins a patent infringement suit, his legal costs might not be covered.

Riley’s concern is that patents that cannot get money behind them will be lawyered out of existence under the new regime. If a company or dedicated group of individuals sees that a patent is a threat to them, they will just raise money to destroy it.

Well, that’s the point.

The patent system is broken. Stupid, obvious, uselss patents routinely get through the system. Slashdot and Groklaw report on this pretty regularly. I am glad the Patent Office realizes this.

But to address Hayes’/Riley’s point: Patents are not a right. They are granted by Congress for a social purpose. To quote the U.S. Constitution (a href=”http://www.house.gov/Constitution/Constitution.html”>Article I, Section 8, Clause 4):

[The Congress shall have Power] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

The only purpose of patents is to promote science and useful arts. Patents are not a human right.

If a patent does not promote science and useful arts, it should not exist. Extending this, if a patent is not profitable to hold it should not exist. If an inventor is unwilling to capitalize his invention — unwilling to secure funding enough to make it defendable — it should be destroyed.

I am glad the United States Patent Office realizes this.

Liberal Bias and Mental Blindness

“War,” World Book Encyclopedia: Volume 21, 1988, pg 24.

I was browsing through an old encyclopedia in my home today, and found this under “War”

Modern warfare has moved away from the days when soldiers with rifles were the most important part of an army. War has been mechanized until it is in large part a contest in producing machinery. In Thomas Jefferson’s day, it made sense to protect “the right to keep and bear arms,” so that people could overthrow a tyrannical government. Today, the private citizen cannot keep the kinds of weapons that would serve this purpose.

The Uzbekistani rebels would disagree.

More seriously, it’s interesting to see an encylopedia written just 13 years after the fall of Saigon state that warfare must be mechanized to defeat a government. Part of it is just mental blindness, but the tome’s liberal bias compounded it.

To think of it in OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) terms, the orientations (“war is mechanized,” “for safety people must be disarmed) implicitly guided the observations (“small arms cannot defeat a government”).