Those damn patents

I’ve had it! There, I said it. Enough already with the software patent idiocy. And I’ve made up my mind about it, believing it’s hurting the consumer, innovation and progress. Those damn patents, time for reform. Or even better, throw it all in the ocean.

Okay, I am just a consumer, the one that buys the software and hardware to improve my life, my workflow, and the way I entertain myself with digital media and games. Clearly I am not a professional, a lawyer, or know anything about (software) patents. But lately it’s been in the news so much that company a buys patents from company b to fight company c who then acquires company d to counter sue company a, and in the end everybody has spend so much money, too much money. The outcome is that the company with the biggest pile of useless patents wins, and everybody pays each other a dollar every time a product is sold. Money that could have been given to bail out Greece, fix Egypt, prevent Spain from ruining itself in 2013, or even better: help those in third world countries that clearly really need it.

Alright, alright, let’s take a step back, and think about why it really is worthless to spend money and time on it, knowing damn well that everybody feels entitled to protect their innovation and protects it legally when they see competition ripping them off just to ride the money train home.

If a company buys out all the small companies because these smaller companies are struggling to make a buck, and consider ‘selling out’ a result they can call ‘a successful business’, then this big company is in a position that’s unfair and has control over the market in a certain way. Such as Microsoft forcing their Internet Explorer browser on each system, without giving the option to choose between competition. Anti-trust suits are then filed against them. The same happens with these patent wars. Enforcing (software) patents on competition to threaten them out of the market or to resolve sales to a point it’s undoable is actually hindering research and development. It’s very hard to double and tripple check every possible available patent in the world. Even if you are locked away in a cave for 15 years and come up with a smooth way to unlock a smartphone so it becomes usable, chances are there’s a patent for it. And a company like Apple Inc. will protect it. Just there being a patent means ‘you should have known about it’, and the future of your product or even your company is at stake. While your intentions weren’t to infringe on anybody their patented stuff, but to actually provide a smooth and logical way to unlock a smartphone.

I also believe that software patents are useless because software is simply different. They’re designed in terms of their function. A product is clearly different. Let me try to explain differently. Hardware is specific, but generic. And software is a component of the hardware. Or, software is created or rather designed to provide function to a feature. It’s not a physical creation.

And isn’t software copyright protection already in place to help protect against infringement?

I already mentioned it. Money. Budgets for research and development, filing and fighting patents, is in the billions. Money I rather see go to charity or countries that need it. For the well-being of humanity. Or at the very least, in return to investing back into innovation of future products, or something like improved customer support and service. It wouldn’t hurt Samsung to have a personal face to their company, such as Apple introduces via their Apple retail stores.

A lot of software designs that are patented are trivial, or even generic. It seems ‘logical’ to do something one way, because since it’s software it’s realistically the only way to do it. Why is it then granted a patent? Software compared to a physical product is also harder to judge. From what I gather and observed I believe the minority of the software patent granters have in-depth knowledge regarding the software design or functionality.

So when something slips through, and a company uses it to their advantage to stay ahead of the competition and own the market they’re in, it ends up in long and expensive law suits and the consumer is paying for it. Well, not the law suit, but in the end. They’re waiting for a product to be available in Europe but it won’t be, there’s an injunction granted in favor of the plaintiff. Preventing it from being imported. And why? Because there was a software patent for a bevel on icons with rounded corners. Oh c’mon.

That said, why didn’t the first company simply say: Woops, patented? Okay, we will fix it, or pay for a license. Let’s not spend millions in a court and delay this any further, while handling bad press for both sides. Noooo, they have to stamp their foot an ruin it for everybody. What are we, five?

Other disadvantages in my opinion is the open source community. They do not have the resources and time, or money, to fight patents. As much as they want, using generic software functionality that’s logical in many situations, different from the granted patent, is going to result in crippling the open source project as soon as there’s a cease and disist letter in the mail.

All in all it’s clear to me that these software patents are trivial in many cases, should not have been granted in the first place, cost too much money and take too much time. Comparing piles of patents and ruining good products, companies, and engineers because of acquirements (only to get the patent portfolio) is just silly. It has to stop. And I hope as it is affecting consumers more and more that us consumers show our frustration via our wallets. A good company fighting the wrong fight will learn that the tighter you hold on to something the easier it is to slip away. People tend to support the underdog. Or simply buy what’s affordable. If they get no personal service, customer support, or frequent innovations, they will try the alternative that will have many variations.

I am done with these patent wars, especially the software patents, and I hope companies will soon send out a signal to the patent offices that things have to change.