I’m not a fan of patents, let’s just lay that out there. Essentially you create an idea, make the patent filing, then it is approved and made public. Someone copies it and makes a few tweaks and you just gave away your secret sauce. Then you end up in a money wasting circus of defence and suing. Like Apple is with the iPhone in suing HTC and perhaps a warning shot over Google’s bow over Android.
All of which is the result of lawyers gleefully rubbing their hands, shareholders groaning or holding their collective breath. I’ve seen patents used as a business weapon as well, successfully. A company I worked for sued it’s primary competitors and in one case beat a giant into closing a division and in the other won royalty payments, adding to its revenue lines.
But overall, I think it’s a drain on the corporate coffers, stifles innovation in the current format and leaves consumers without innovative products.
Coca Cola does not have a patent on it’s recipe. It could. Wisely, it chose to go the route of secrecy and for over a hundred years has done rather well that way. As has Pepsi and even Google. Once Google submits a patent on its search technology that information is made public and then Google is in a race to sue to protect (what would be a hugely costly venture even for them) and make ongoing changes much faster and at much higher cost than it does now.
My company has a secret sauce for it’s search components, Artificial Intelligence algorithms and how we blend it all together. We’re not going to patent it. If someone decides they want our secret sauce then they can cut us a cheque, bury us in confidentially and non-disclosures and I’ll happily go onto the next ventre.
Meanwhile, the current patent system is a nightmare. Approval in the U.S. is better now that Peer-to-Patent is in place, but it doesn’t solve the issue of how big business has turned them into anti-competition weapons they’ll wield until an anti-trust suit is filed by government.
All of which stifles technical advancement, frustrates good ideas from getting financed and leaves the consumer hanging. Surely with the collective wisdom of the Web, someone can come up with a better system?