Why we need patents

First of all, why am i writing this article? In the latest episode of Hypercritical (67-‘A pill that helps with Whatever’) – (original link on 5by5 – start at 1:18:01 hr), John Siracusa, well, monologues about the current patent system in the US and how it is bad in general and how Patents are bad in general.

I wanted to give you another perspective on this.

My standpoint:

I’m from Germany and we have a slightly different patent system, here. The nteresting bit perhaps, is, that my mother actually holds a patent. (It’s about a paper which transforms into another material). She worked at a research foundation and researched this process herself there.

Furthermore, I for myself are NOT an expert on the topic, nevertheless, I gathered some infromation on it and also read a lot of the european and the american patent system as well. If I’m wrong, and you are a patent lawyer, please feel free to report it and I will update the post.

The differences between the US and the european patent system:

1. In Europe, we have some regulations, that a patent holder who doesn’t use its patents for himself (a “troll”) has to license it to competitiors for a fair price. So trolling is a lot more difficult here.

2. The next thing is about industry critical patents: Perhaps you heard of the case where Apple and Motorolla are at the courts due to patents in Germany. These are industry wide critical patents, and the patent system over here says: “If you have a patent so crucial to your competitors, you WILL have to license it for a fair price if they ask”. You don’t have that, too, in the US.

John Siracusa’s points:

Patents are issued for dumb things:

Yes, this is a problem, but with the 1. and 2. differences, you can get around that. But I agree that dumb things shouldn’t be patented at all.

I have a patent on receiving bits over a wireless network (talking about a “dumb” patent)

I think, there was a time when there wasn’t wireless data and networks and it in fact was a really really great invention. And as specific techniques were developed, they were patented. The thing is, nowadays, one might think this seems so stupid, but as patents usually hod for 20-30 years, it would get back to 1990s. So in the 1990s, one hadn’t got WiFi. And it was not a dumb thing to patent.

I don’t think copyright should be eliminated

What is the difference between the “crafting” and researching  and the creativity involved in “real invention” ( a paper which truly transforms into another material, wireless networking when it was never done before) and the creativity involved in writing a book, or article etc? I think, if you want to eliminate the patent system, you should also eliminate copyright, because it is essentially the same, if we are talking about patented inventions. You are right if you talk about patented ideas. One shouldn’ be able to patent an idea without having it done. One should only be able to patent the way it is done.

Companies would still try to find cures for cancer. Because people want to find cures for cancer and companies are made of people.

Well, the thing is, we have a heck of a lot examples in the world where business people don’t mind exploiting workers and also a lot of examples where drug companies aren’t developing meds for specific small ills, because there isn’t “the market” for it. When not enough people have a specific desease, you’re likely not having a drug against it. Because companies have to make money, and they can’t, if they research something and a competitor just copys them. You could run the research by government, but do you really want that?

People want to find a cure for cancer because people want to find a cure for cancer. Period.

There is a difference between “wanting to do something and achieve something” and “doing something”. All people want to find cures, but you need money, you can’t get, if it doesn’t pay out in the long run.

Even a perfect system implementing this [patents] would be bad, because it’s not a good goal

Please, before making such a drastic statement, consider looking outside of the US into Euopre. There are other countries on earth where things work differently.

To sum it up

We need patents because:

  1. investing multiple million $ into research, and getting copied on day 2 and undercut in price isn’t a sustainable business model
  2. “we want to know how they did it”. can you imagine a world where no single company could really compete in the smartphone area because new technologies wouldn’t be shared and a society of distrust due to spionage came true?

What we don’t need in patents:

  1. Just patenting an idea (not the technic behind it. You can patent the technique(s))
  2. monopolies (look at the euopean system, where one has to share

I hope I made my points clear, didn’t misquote, or falsified something. If you happen to believe otherwise, feel free to tweet me @JMoVS.