[category: personal views]

Patents: the Beauty and the Beast

Nowaday, everybody who is seriously working in Computer Science and Technology is familiar with the (in)famous word "patent". Patents are usually a theme that divides, as there are at least two major communities:

The Beast: The community of people who see patents as pure hell: they undermine progress, they are just done to suck money on others, they are a plague.

The Beauty: The community of people who see patents as a necessary safeguard: patents enable protection of intellectual property, and as such, of the research undertaken in a commercial environment. Without patents, commercial research would fall apart.

My view is different: patents per se are not necessarily pure evil: in fact, I can well understand the reasons of whose who claim that they are a great incentive to commercial research (which, otherwhise, would have to behave in a totally different way,not the case in our economic model today). As I see it, the problem is not much of the patents per se, but of the fact that often, too often, a patent is just not a patent.

The Patents-Not-Patents (PA-NO-PA)

Patents are a way to preserve innovative reserch in a commercial environment. If a company put lots of money and effort in developing something innovative, here comes a patent that allows some protection for a number of years. But the real problem is, a patent must protect innovation: and, it is my personal experience that a huge lot of patents are just not innovation, but they are just re-inventing the wheel. Real innovation is extremely hard to achieve, and the greatest majority of the currently awarded patents (at least in the fields I know) are just recycling old things: maybe not knowingly, maybe in good faith, but the fact stands: the big majority of patents is not innovation, it is just embellished prior art, what I call a patent-not-patent (for short, PA-NO-PA). And at that point, such PA-NO-PAs just become a way to slow down progress, to deprive people of innovation, to turn a competitive market into a viced game of money and courts.

The big cancer of progress and innovation is not patents, it is the patents-not-patents. Therefore, the big blame is not really into those filing a patent, it is in those people who grant it. That is where our high screams should go first.

The Money, The Society

That said, I personally dislike patents, for the following simple and easy reason: patents are an awkward way to make money. If you file a patent, you are putting progress and innovation of society later, and money first. As discussed earlier, you might have good reasons to do so (you work for a company, and money is really what you need). If you are savy, you might even try some compromise, like granting patents in a non-discriminatory way, for a very small fee. However, this doesn't change the fact, that money is coming first, and society later. Personally, I put society and progress first. Sure, my minimal work income does not depend on patents: but, that is the route I chose, consciously putting society in the first place, wanting to do research for the progress (however little) of humanity. Not to put some grands in my bank account.

I am glad I didn't patent hypersearch, because if I had done that, now maybe Google would have to pay fees, and I would be limiting someone else to go beyond and build a better search engine. Increasing my bank account, but limiting progress. This sounds so ridicolous to me.

So, really, it's all a matter of priorities: do you put money, or society first? How does your conscience react to this question? Do you work for passion and fun, or to have more money?

Anyway, this is a matter of opinions, and I respect every choice concerning patents (while, I hate the cancer of the patents-not-patents). Whatever choice you do, just remind: money passes, you pass, society and our sons will stay. There is no "beast", just a matter of priorities. Whatever choice you do, just, please, don't put society too low.

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