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Patent Infringement ‘Worse Than Murder’ According to Galileo & Stephen Hawking

Patent owners have an apparent ally in Professor Stephen Hawking, who spoke as a “patron” of the SME Innovation Alliance back in April.  According to the SMEIA’s blog, Professor Hawking addressed the problems that small and medium business face from IP infringement, noting a similar experience that Galileo called “worse than murder.”

As a cosmologist, you may be interested to know that my illustrious predecessor Galileo Galilei had his design for a compass stolen, by his one time protege Baldassar Capra.  I know that patent theft is one of the big issues that innovative SMEs face today.  Galileo described such theft as ‘worse than murder, the victim feels the loss of fame, honour and merited glory, obtained not by nature, fate or chance… but from studies, hard work and long vigils.’

(See Notes of SMEIA meeting)

The SMEIA has also been actively lobbying their own government officials for improvements to the British and European patent systems.  A letter (embedded below) sent to Prime Minister David Cameron set out a number of points similar to what we’ve witnessed from similar US-based groups.  The organization explains that while “innovation for the most part is carried out by SMEs, not major corporations,” these very same SMEs are increasingly having difficulty obtaining loans and risk capital.  Specifically addressing the patent system, the organization’s letter demonstrates a dismissive attitude of current IPO officials:

The patent system is effectively broken so far as SMEs are concerned. The UKIPO and the Minister for Intellectual Property, on the other hand, suggest instead that most SMEs do not know how to protect their innovation. Most know only too well the failure of the patent system and have given up.

The UKIPO is essentially telling its SME patrons that it’s “doing it wrong” and should (evidently) emulate the larger businesses that (by implication) DO know how to protect their innovation.  I don’t practice in the UK, so I don’t know what strategy that might be.  If it’s anything like the big business strategy in America, it involves investing substantial resources in expensive patent attorneys that can overcome the arbitrary “obviousness” tax imposed by the USPTO.  This is beneficial to the American patent bar, and arguably to the USPTO as well, but hardly beneficial to small businesses.  Ultimately, the letter concludes, these policies are counterproductive to the businesses and consumers alike.

For example, SMEIA identifies Germany’s more effective patent enforcement system, indicative of a culture that takes a more serious approach to technology and industry, as the reason “Germans are leading Europe out of recession.  Germany reportedly boasts a court system experienced in dealing with patent disputes, low costs and about 12 months to disposition.  Of course, similar benefits are found in pockets of the US court system, but restricting the patent owner’s choice of venue have been part of judicial and legislative reform efforts for several years.

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One thought on “Patent Infringement ‘Worse Than Murder’ According to Galileo & Stephen Hawking

  1. Also remember that a patent infringement law suite can be a David-versus-Goliath confrontation. Defendants in patent infringement lawsuits are usually large corporations with unlimited resources, while plaintiffs in patent infringement lawsuits are often individuals or small businesses with very limited resources.

    Posted by Jared | May 17, 2011, 10:19 am

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