/Big Question/ Patently absurd

Given the renewed debate following Paul Allen’s actions – and its impact on innovation – is it time to abolish the patent system?

SEO guru
David Deutsch
Fortune Cookie

Patents are a critical business tool used to protect intellectual property. Without patents, no legitimate business would ever be safe from being copied.

The cases that are happening now are simply abusing the idea of intellectual property rights. You can’t own every aspect of an idea, just the exact idea that you indicate in your patent.

My father patented the T-shirt with blinking lights in 1980. That didn’t stop Nike from creating the Sneaker with blinking lights.

David Deutsch is head of SEO at Fortune Cookie

Internet playboy
Drew Curtis

If you followed the same logic, given that large money managers are just using the stock market as one giant casino instead of an investment, we should get rid of the stock market. Patents still need some work, though. In fact, what they really need is a fast-track way to file a “this patent is fucking stupid” case.

The main issue here is that when you try to defeat an awarded patent, burden of proof is on the plaintiff. I think the assumption that the patent office is capable of properly researching all aspects of highly technical patents needs to be thrown out.

Drew is the owner of Fark.com

Oxblood Ruffin

I’d favour revision rather than outright abolishment. Patents should be allowed for 10 years or until you double the money you put into R&D, whichever comes sooner.

Oxblood Ruffin is the founder of Hacktivismo

Ecommerce specialist
Nick Vincent

US patent law is certainly becoming an industry in itself. At least here in the UK, the whole concept of software patents remain an informed debate rather than an open chequebook for firms with deep pockets and expensive lawyers.

Nick Vincent is a senior ecommerce consultant with software solutions company Neoworks

Ecommerce expert
Ben Dyer

It’s a sad day: here we have one of the world’s greatest tech innovators, a man who co-founded arguably the most important company in modern history, acting like a patent troll.

So is it time to abolish the patent system? Yes: it’s archaic and completely ineffectual for today’s digital economy. I’m sure there are lots of web developers reading this; how do you have any idea that the code you’re lovingly creating isn’t already filed somewhere? The answer is, you probably don’t, unless you scan the archives on a regular basis or spend a fortune on patent searches.

When the patent system was invented, it made sense: back in those days, innovation was all about mechanics and specific technical designs. However, today it seems anyone who has a remotely innovative idea, workable or not, can apply for – and more importantly protect – a patent.

The Paul Allen case is really frustrating; the patent is completely abstract and I suspect it will end up being expensively settled out of court.

Ben Dyer is director of ecommerce software company Actinic

Patents expert
Ilya Kazi
Mathys & Squire

The implications of the Paul Allen lawsuit are widespread, even to the inclusion of individuals and small companies working to produce new apps, for example (and we’ve seen a huge increase in these numbers just in the past year as Apple makes it easier and easier for them to get new products to the public quickly and cheaply).

Does this new breed of inventors realise what they might be signing away? Will they regret it later? And will it be too late – as has been mooted even for Paul Allen’s case – if they want to claim rewards in the future?

Ilya Kazi is a chartered patent attorney and partner with international intellectual property advisors Mathys & Squire

Hosting expert
Andrew Saunders
Zen Internet

Absolutely not. The patent system is more important than ever as Western society moves further away from industrial and manufacturing economies towards a knowledge-based economy. Intellectual property, as protected by the patent system, will become the global currency of the future. What we need is a stronger and more unified global patent system.

Andrew is head of product management and marketing at hosting firm Zen Internet

Hosting specialist
Neil Barton
Hostway, UK

In many respects the software industry has broken the patent system. Whereas a patent was once seen as a sign of innovation, now it’s seen as means to secure market share. Consequently, we’re now seeing many software companies applying for patents purely as a defensive measure just to stifle the competition.

Patents do still have their place, but if we truly want to see more creativity and innovation in the market, the current system needs to be looked at before it really descends into legislative hell.

Neil Barton is the director of hosting service provider Hostway UK

Project manager
Ané-Mari Peter

Looking at the continuing high of innovation right now, the patent system is working well by rewarding innovation investment in exchange for protection from direct competitors. An important aspect of innovation, in particular within the sciences and engineering, is also the sharing of information. Unfortunately the traditional role of patents are being usurped by ‘patent trolls’, organisations that build extensive patent portfolios to gain access to technologies developed by others as well as prevent or reduce the cost of litigation. This blocks off entire areas of research, as has happened with DNA, is starting to happen in software technology and might happen to nanotechnology unless patent law is reformed.

In December 2009, the EU agreed to move forward with developing an EU-wide patenting system. This will reduce the cost of EU patents and bring the EU on a par in terms of volume with the USA. Patent law has in the past continuously evolved to keep up with new technology and scientific discovery: now it needs to evolve to include independent specialist advisors, promoting independent research, a swift legal/appeals process and sharing information to stimulate business practise and innovation.

Ané-Mari is the co-founder of branding, design and web development company on-IDLE

Media & PR expert
Tim Gibbon
Elemental Communications

Technology companies are just a few businesses that rely upon patents to protect their intellectual property, regardless of the stature. Individuals know they need to protect their concepts, ideas and all the detail in between; it’s become an essential element of business more than ever before.

I’ve witnessed over the years how technology companies in other sectors have used patent strategy, acquiring other businesses and their patents along with it. The web analytics sector being a prime example where there was fierce competition at a critical time in that marketplace. There was one firm in particular that issued numerous court actions against many other web analytics businesses citing breach of patents (in 2006, if my memory serves me correctly). Things haven’t moved on, either, with more analytics specialists fighting it out in the courts in 2010.

It would be interesting to learn what the alternatives to the patent system would be, especially for an area that can become incredibly complicated. There is no monopoly on great concepts and ideas, particularly within the realm of technology. Large businesses have legal departments or can budget for representation, but this cannot be said of smaller businesses or individuals. How quickly technology moves now – and the value of it – creates potentially huge problems, more so than for individuals or smaller businesses.

Although perhaps not seen as the perfect answer for international protection, it’s a measure that is works at this time. It should definitely be reviewed and, where possible, improved to create a fair and efficient way to protect all, regardless of their standing.

Tim is director of Elemental Communications


.net magazine

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