Patents and technological progress

I have been following the recent patent battle between Samsung and Apple, which to me has just confirmed how outdated and perverted the patent system is in this day and age.

Patents were meant to stimulate technological progress, by granting the holder of a patent the exclusive rights to their invention in exchange for the public disclosure of said invention. Other people could use the disclosed knowledge to further leverage technological development, but could not monetise on it straight away. This system gave developers the incentive to invest money in technological development, while ensuring maximum progress by sharing the newfound knowledge.

The validity of patents has remained relatively unchanged since the Industrial Revolution; in fact it has gone from 14 to 20 years validity over that time frame. Technological progress however moves at an exponential rate, mainly because we leverage our knowledge standing on the foundations of knowledge uncovered by the generations before us. It doesn’t take a brilliant mind to realise that the term of validity is no longer congruent with the rate at which technology progresses nowadays. In fact, it is so incongruent that patents actually hamper the rate of technological progress.

This issue is compounded by the reality that companies can trade in patents, which has resulted in the existence of companies whose sole purpose is to acquire lone patents and create a big package which they then sell off to the large corporations. Those large corporations will then utilise those sets of patents to try and block off the competition, which brings us back to the first paragraph.

An additional issue with patents is that it is absolutely pointless for an individual to protect their invention with a patent if they will not be able to afford the costs of defending their rights in court. A battle that cannot possibly be won if one has to defend it from the large corporations, as they have a lot of patience and capital and will simply outlast you – it is not about who is right at all.

As long as patents can be traded (note: I’m not talking about licensing), the period of validity remains unchanged, and the individual isn’t protected from the might of the large corporations, patents are a farce that achieve the exact opposite of why they were created in the first place.


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