Why patents are anti-social

Where would the human race be if the first person to do anything was the only person allowed to do that thing.

“Hey guys. Check this out. I’ve just invented the alphabet.

Would you like to use it? Sure.

I only ask for the carcass of one wild boar a week as payment for using my idea.”

If that sounds bad, imagine how much worse it would be if it wasn’t the first person to do something that owned the rights, but it was instead the first person rich enough to employ a patent lawyer that took exclusive ownership of the idea for the next ~20 years.

We now live in a world where companies buy-up other companies, not because the they want to sell their products, employ their staff or service their customers, but simply to own their patents.

Instead of protecting the entrepreneur from the competitive might of large corporations, patents now protect large corporations from the competetive threat of the entrepreneur.

Patents are inherently anti-competitive and favour the rich. If you don’t think they favour the rich, try hiring a patent lawyer or offering a 1-click payment solution on your e-commerce website.

Patents for web technologies can last close to 20-years; that’s longer than any web technology is likely to last. Instead of offering a grace period in which the inventor can establish a place in the market to benefit from their own invention, patents now offer total ownership of the marketplace for its entire lifespan.

So what’s the alternative?

How about…

  • No company or individual is allowed to own more than 5 patents in total
  • Companies with existing patents can keep them, but they cannot acquire new patents until they own less than 5
  • New patents last a maximum of 5 years
  • Patents can be sold, but they cannot be licensed
  • Create some kind of body where patents can be donated for public use, allowing inventors to patent ideas for the public good rather than private gain