The patent system is under attack on several fronts, whether from large corporations lobbying to overturn 250 years of precedent, collectivists seeking to impose their IP values on us all, or members of the media intent on smearing the reputation of IP owners. Of course, while the patent system serves inventors by securing exclusive rights, corporations need to acquire those rights in order to commercialize products practicing the invention.
Unfortunately, not all corporations want to pay, and the media prefers to act as an accomplice to theft of invention rather than as watchdog for the inventors. Consider Techdirt author Mike Masnick’s convenient definition of “innovation” as contrasted with the act of invention, which he wrote back in 2007:
Invention is the practice of coming up with something new. Innovation, however, is delivering something new to a market that wants it. In other words, innovation is figuring out how to take something new and actually bring it to market successfully. … An invention without the corresponding innovation is somewhat useless. Unfortunately, though, the patent system is much more focused on rewarding invention, rather than innovation (and, it often hinders innovation by making it more expensive).
More recently, Masnick outright advocated for wholesale copying of ideas as the key to innovation:
In other words, yet again, we see that the strategies that make the most sense for the greatest output tend to be those where participants in a market have the ability to copy others.
I should note at this point that I have no problem with a firm copying a proprietary invention, if the firm obtains a license first. The patent system rewards invention because the separation of knowledge from rights incentivizes the exploration of knowledge. After all, if inventions can simply be copied by others without remuneration, how many new inventions can we count on?
Thus, while its preferable that commercializing firms pay to license inventions incorporated into its products, it appears that some firms would prefer just to use them for free. Consider this statement from Michelle Lee, head of patent strategy for Google:
Once a driver of creativity, our patent system now poses a hurdle for innovation.
This is an interesting statement, but given Google’s moxie to run up the tab on litigation, while lobbying for patent reform based, in part, on the cost of litigation, this statement may need to be supplemented in order to be understood. After all, perhaps Lee means:
“Once a driver of creativity [when our founder gave us exclusive rights to an invention forming the basis for our entire company], our patent system now poses a hurdle for innovation [because it requires us to actually pay for the dozens of inventions we want to combine into our new products and services].”
That must have been what she meant.
- Don’t Fear The Licensor – Infringement Validates Importance Of Patented Technology (gametimeip.com)
- Patent Reformers Favor Corporate Interests Over Inventor’s Rights (gametimeip.com)
- Patent Connections – Using Patents To Open Innovation And Open Minds (gametimeip.com)