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On the phenomenon of rubbish patents

a train of thoughts written on a train

You are starting your next venture with a brief search on what has been done before. Stumbling across some patents you get excited and start exploring the database vigorously. It isn't too late that you realize that something doesn't feel quite right – nearly 2/3 of the patents you come across are vague and do not make sense. You then morph into a questioning phase, but why?

All granted patents in the databases have a certain role. They are like the bureaucrats in the public sector: some are completely useless, others a bit pointless, you can also find a few good ones. But why is it that the majority is rubbish? The short answer would be that a patent's purpose is to protect someone's intellectual property from misuse, but a large portion are instead used for image forgery and lobbying. The long answer, however, is a bit more involved and perhaps cannot be answered by a few lines. But, let me try to elaborate on what I think can be defined as rubbish, and later on state my views for the utopian world of patents.

So, what's a rubbish patent anyway? These are patents which include methods or apparatus with false claims, have never been or ever will work. Usually submitted by universities or companies which are hopelessly trying to boost their sell value by enriching their patent portfolios. Similarly, university professors sometimes use the patenting strategy to provide that kick which makes the graduation of the lower performing PhD students possible, or perhaps why not even justify project money funded by the taxpayer, easy huh? In the end, who doesn't get impressed by a few US/EU patents backing-up a CV. These patents are generally harmless, except for the disturbances caused in the public monetary balance.

The other, and more prominent, type of bullshit patents are the ones filed by patent trolls, whose sole purpose is to milk someone legally. Patent trolling is usually done by individuals (typically well trained lawyers) who issue or buy patents from a bankrupted company and then attempt to enforce patent rights against accused infringers far beyond the patent's actual value or contribution to the prior art. Patent trolls do not really create products or supply any services based upon the patents in question. These are perhaps a bit less of a problem in Europe than in the U.S. because Europe has a fairer loser pays the trial costs regime. But still, this kind of trickery is harmful to all sensible companies who add value to society, and objectively, the end users are the ones who suffer and have always been covering the mess.

Patent trolling is just a product of a lawyer's imagination, does not contribute any value to society, should be regarded as crime; and must be eradicated. That's probably easier said than done, but here's my suggestion for Intellectual Property (IP) handling in an utopian world.

My vision for the patenting system in a dreamland is not to have it in the first place. Eradication of the whole scheme would mean two tings; all harmful trickeries rooting from the law system would vanish and competition would solely be driven by creativity, leading to an even faster technological development. Having no secrets in science and engineering means that to be better one will have no other option but to expand his/her creativity, instead of trying to hide, protect, and waste energy on lawsuits. You might argue that once we lift IP protection some companies will go bankrupt, while others will just cheat by keeping secrecy (which happens nowadays anyway and is totally fine). Well and here is my point, lifting the patenting barriers will only work if, and only if, IPs are always shared and open which isn't particularly easy to enforce.

The last is likely to be the most mountainous issue which is typically encountered in all utopian dreams – you can't re-program people's brains overnight. We need someone like Rotwang, popping out the dungeons of Metropolis to ring that global brain-resonance tuning bell, but this only exists on film reels. Until then, it seems like we'll have to accept things as they are, and stick living in a world stuffed with patent lawyers, bullshit patents and inefficiency.

Date:Thu May 23 06:44:49 GMT 2017


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