Prompted by a tweet from Tim Harford, of BBC R4′ s “More or Less, referring to ‘Patent Trolls’ I feel compelled to get some thoughts down on the nature of intellectual property and ability 0f companies and creative individuals to protect their IP.
What is a patent ? Let’s look at some definitions:
- A patent ( /ˈpætənt/ or /ˈpeɪtənt/) is a set of exclusive rights granted by a state (national government) to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention. (Wikipedia)
- Rather, a patent provides the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the patented invention for the term of the patent, which is usually 20 years from the filing date subject to the payment of maintenance fees. A patent is, in effect, a limited property right that the government offers to inventors in exchange for their agreement to share the details of their inventions with the public. Like any other property right, it may be sold, licensed, mortgaged, assigned or transferred, given away, or simply abandoned. (Wikipedia)
- Patents confer the right to prevent third parties from making, using or selling the invention without their owners’ consent. (EPO)
It seems to me that IP, in the form of patents, has now become commoditised, well beyond original intention. Patents are bought and sold like tonnes of base metal (of notionally equal unit value) rather than positively valued for their own worth (or potential future worth) to the originator of the idea. If we think of these ideas & work as physcial ‘property’ rather than ‘value’it is perhaps inevitable that patents become commoditised units.
Also, in part, it stems from the nature of the patent application process, in that after a long and increasingly expensive process a patent is given either a pass or a fail by the appropriate patent office. There is no grading system, in effect assigning quality or some notional value (to society?) at birth, and after expert consideration (a positive economic value). [NB. chatting to an EPO friend this might be seen as unworkable]
The owner of a patent only has the right to prevent use elsewhere. If the owner has a genuine need to do so, that is protecting it’s own ‘use of the IP’ then there is a notional positive outcome for society. If the patent is ‘sat on’ by either the originator or troll then it would appear that the value of the IP to society has been lost (almost a ‘moral right’), is therefore invalid, and should be recognised as such.
Thought: Knowledge has no ‘economic value’ unless it is applied. Sustained application of that knowledge brings competence to the user and insight for further improvements.
As it stands the PO would stand to lose renewal fees to invalidate an un-used patent, and I’m sure there are disincentives for other parties.
For the sake of expediency I will leave it there for the moment, but will pick up the thread in further bloggings.