Those who can, do. Those who can't, patent business methods.

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (443 Words)

There was a time when patents represented innovation. Thanks to the relaxing of patent rules as championed by the US patent office in a blatant attempt to curry favour with dubious business interests, and make a bit of money at the same time, those days are gone.

These days, patents are a tool for those who have no business model other than litigation, either because their primary business model failed, or by design because filing patents and hoping a lawsuit or three will stick (or rather, be settled out of court) is easier than actually building something good.

Inventors are supposed to be builders of things, things that astound and amaze us, and that further the interests of humankind as a whole. Patents should protect their genuine innovations. But now, for every genuine invention that’s patented, there are a thousands of restatements of ideas that have been sloshing around the IT world for the last 30 years. It seems that now, to be an inventor and make money from patents, you just need a lawyer, a web browser, a bit of seed funding and the ability to fill in a few forms. The pool of human knowledge does not expand, and the resulting patent lawsuits positively put a drain on the people who are actually going out there and trying to make ideas work in practice. You know, the doing part. The making it work part. Not just sitting on your arse filing paperwork.

Whenever I see yet another failed company trying to pretend it has value from its highly vague and often derivative patent portfolio and attacking companies that are actually out there creating stuff people like, I want to stab all the world’s patent lawyers in the face with a biro. The world is terribly, terribly screwed up when we reward people for savvy administrative & legal navigation over, I don’t know, doing something that matters.

There are too many vested interests in the industry for people to actually own up and admit that a huge proportion of the patents being registered are piles of steaming horse manure, especially since they’re paying their lawyers handsomely to produce it - even those who produce them ‘defensively’ are just as bad. The more they produce of it, the more it stinks up the place for everyone. In London repeated cholera epidemics finally made authorities deal with the Big Stink, we could do with the equivalent in IT instead of the big players merely brushing the problem under the carpet (mostly because they don’t want to lose their own expensive portfolios from their balance sheet), metaphorically walking past with scented hankerchiefs under their noses.