[pmwiki-users] general browser rant
jo at durchholz.org
Sun Apr 23 05:21:42 CDT 2006
Thorralf Schuh schrieb:
> I think that patents are ambivalent! On one hand I can understand the
> inventor who puts a lot of work into the project and wants to
> benefit from it (some call them professionals ;) ) and on the other
> hand the user who is somehow uncomfortable by having to buy every
> feature that he is forced to use... tricky!!
That perspective isn't wide enough.
The real question is: Are patents beneficial to the society as a whole?
On the plus side, they provide an incentive to publish new commercially
interesting ideas. The idea is to (a) prevent inventors from keeping
their inventions secret, and (b) relieve inventors from having to set up
elaborate secrecy measures.
On the minus side, patents establish monopolies.
The deal is this: society is paying inventors for the disclosure of
their invention, and that payment happens in the form of monopoly profits.
There are many, many problems with that. Some of them existed right when
monopolies were introduced, others have developed in the past decades
1) The vast majority of inventions aren't *that* groundbreaking. If
inventor A chooses not to disclose how he's producing his new, improved
shenanigan, inventor B may. Or inventor C. The compulsion to publish
your technique to get a patent isn't such a great deal for the public.
2) In a similar vein, it's often many inventors who discover the same
technique within a short period of time. It's unfair to reward just the
first inventor - it's a case of "the winner takes it all".
3) That inventions are the result of the thinking of a single person who
should be rewarded was always dubious, and today it's mostly a myth.
Advances in technology are teamwork, patents are awarded to individuals.
The result is that the team members are often ignored, only the team
leader gets the patent. (This is similar to publication practices in
universities. The assistants who have prepared the work, collected
information etc. are often not even mentioned in the papers that became
possible due to their diligent work.)
4) There are other ways to reward people who want to do research. E.g.
there's professors and other publicly subsidized researchers (I really
don't understand why they all are allowed to have patents and make money
of them - that research was already paid for by the public!).
5) Patent portfolios have become a market entry barrier. Those
established in a market tend to have a lot of patents in that area; any
newcomer will be immediately kicked out of the market. That's bad: the
existing companies will have an oligopoly and establish an informal
trust. (The existing companies won't sue each other over patents: since
all companies have patents in the area, any lawsuit would immedately be
answered by a counter-lawsuit. In fact, in most markets, companies are
"cross-licensing" their patent portfolios, so each company is entitled
to use the patents of the other company. Of course, newcomers don't have
a patent portfolio, so they are immediately sued out of the market.)
6) Patent litigation is *far* too expensive. Seriously defending a
patent will cost a six-digit sum. Small-to-medium companies can't afford
even to hold patents, because they will be sued out of existence as soon
as the first global player takes notice of them.
7) It is essentially impossible to avoid patent infringement. There are
so many patents that might apply to any given activity, and patents are
worded in so diffuse and general terms, that it's very difficult (and
hence costly) to decide whether some activity violates a given patent.
Multiply this overhead with a six-digit figure of patents in any general
area of activity, and you get a rough idea of how difficult avoiding
patent infringement is. (The additional overhead of finding,
implementing and patent researching a workaround that doesn't infringe
on the given patent will, of course, prolong time-to-market, with all
the associated costs and disadvantages.)
8) Studies enumerating the macro-economic benefits and costs of patent
systems have come to mixed conclusions: some conclude there's a net
benefit, some conclude a net cost. If patents don't have clear
advantages, they should be abolished.
9) Software industry has been vastly innovative in the years where there
were no patents. It seems to have slowed down in the years when patents
came into more widespread use.
10) Software patents will kill open software development. Open source
developers don't have the resources to do patent research, to attack
trivial patents, or to defend their own patents. Besides, it's not their
area of expertise, nor is it what they'd *like* to do. The big companies
can and will sue open source software out of its existence as soon as
some OSS really threatens its business model. We already have seen what
happens when a company gets into troubled waters, in the SCO vs. IBM
case: SCO made some rather unlucky decisions wrt. Linux, and bankruptcy
was imminent. So they combed their archives for stuff that could be
turned into money quickly, and found some old (and rather dubious)
rights to the name "Unix". To bolster their insufficient income, they
sued IBM for copyright infringement (and whatever else they could
construe), claiming that IBM introduced SCO's Unix code into Linux,
violating SCO's copyright in the process. These allegations don't hold
water, but Linux got a real dent.
Now assume another scenario: Open Office and Linux finally become good
enough to attack MS Office and Windows. Hardware vendors start to bundle
Linux and OOo with their boxes. MS begins to feel a landslide, stock
prices start to drop - but they still have a few billion dollars in
reserve. What do you think is MS is going to do? They can't sue for
copyright (though they could start slinging copyright allegations
against Wine - they'd probably be thin air, but the defenders would
still incur litigation cost in a six-to-seven-digit range). But they
*can* sue for patent infringement. MS has started systematically
acquiring a patent portfolio a few years ago. In their favor, I'll
assume they did that to defend themselves from types like Sun and SCO,
but I'm pretty sure they'll use it against Linux if they have to.
I'm very sceptical of the value of patents in general, but I don't know
enough for a solid judgement in that area. However, I know enough about
software patents to be 100% sure that they should never have been
allowed in the past, and should not be allowed in the foreseeable future.
Coming back to your initial point: yes of course the patent holders
would like to be rewarded for their efforts. However, they's like even
more to be granted a monopoly, and to continue their monopoly in
eternity. (Once I have a patent, three days before it is terminated, I
put in another patent. I've had 20 years to improve on the original
idea, and others didn't have an incentive to research commercially
viable technology in that area, since they'd have violated my patent
More information about the pmwiki-users