According to WIPO, “A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention – a product or process that provides a new way of doing something, or that offers a new technical solution to a problem. A patent provides patent owners
with protection for their inventions.” Basically, it’s a way to claim ownership over an invention and control who can and cannot use it and under what circumstances they can use it so that you can profit from your hard work. That’s the idea at least. They acknowledge the value of ideas and intellectual property by providing legal protection against using the patented invention without permission from the person who owns it. It enforces a “give credit where credit is due” system and is financially beneficial to inventors. Patents were intended to encourage innovation because if you came up with a really good idea, nobody could steal it from you. Sometimes, however, patents are counterproductive to this goal because they prevent others from making use of the invention in their ideas.
I used to just assume that patents were good because I’ve never known life without them. I think they are useful in some cases and make less sense in others, but I don’t know where I’d draw the line. They seem to act as protection for the small companies/individuals and a club for the big ones. If I were to come up with a really cool idea, I wouldn’t want some big company to make millions off it while I don’t see a dime just because they had the money and connections to implement the idea that I came up with. That being said, I don’t think they promote innovation as much as they hinder it because people are curious and driven, and I think they would still try to invent new things even without the guarantee of patent protection. I think people are more deterred by the risk of being sued for the work they’re doing than the deprivation of recognition or money that would occur if their idea was stolen.
Although I agree that the idea of patents should extend to software, I don’t think the way it’s currently being done is necessarily the best way to do it. I would consider software to be intellectual property, but it doesn’t seem like the software developer community cares as much about claims to ownership of the software as legal/corporate entities do. In fact, they seem to think patents discourage innovation because developers emphasize sharing and collaboration through open source projects. Until better patent guidelines for software are written, I think software should not be patented. One of the article authors was very passionate about this, and I don’t know if that is the most effective way to persuade someone. Software development is still relatively young and growing quickly, so although I don’t think it should grow unregulated, I don’t think it should be constrained this early on with patents and legal issues. I don’t know how effective it would be to invalidate all patents now because tech giants have used them to get to where they are, and they’re probably too powerful at this point to feel any consequences of a patent-free software world.
One group that would definitely be hurt by the invalidation of patents is the patent trolls. These are companies that make their money solely from buying patents and suing people/businesses that are potentially in violation of those patents. Patent trolls exploit the system and show its weaknesses. Given the benefit of the doubt, the intent behind patents is to provide protection, but patent trolls use them as clubs to punish others unnecessarily, and this hinders innovation. It seems like a sketchy business model, but it’s legally permissible and legitimate though I wouldn’t say it’s ethical. Furthermore, they’re not contributing anything to the world if they solely hold patents and sue others, so they should try to find some more honest and productive work.