It’s no secret that the patenting system, for software at least, is a mess.
I have talked to a number of entrepreneurs, CEOs, CTOs, and even Intellectual Property lawyers and have yet to come across any credible examples of where software patents have had a positive effect. Here are the reasons for taking out software patents that I have so far come across:
Marketing: Having a patent granted gives you something to talk about in your promotional material.
Sales FUD: Having a patent application in (not necessarily even granted) lets you talk bigger in front of prospects.
Because the VCs told me to: Investors may feel an exit will be more valuable if there are some patents amongst the firm’s assets.
For defence: If one of your competitors tries to screw up your IPO by threatening a patent infringement suit then you’ll probably find some way that they are infringing one of your patents and can beat them off that way.
IBM makes a lot of $$$$ by licensing their IP: By extension, so could you. If you wanted to operate that kinds of businesses.
Nowhere (or just incredibly rarely) does “to protect and reward the inventor” figure. Much innovative software is developed for free under “open source” (*).
Now look at the commentary on the Ariba/Emptoris pissing contest patent wars and tell me that someone other than lawyers benefits from this broken patent system.
P.S. This tirade is just directed at patents. I suspect the solution to the IP mess might be addressable through copyright.
P.P.S. At TradingPartners we have taken the view not to apply for any patents. I’d prefer to spend the $$$ on building better e-auction software. If someone wants to rip us off then I’ll take it as a compliment, and it will just spur us to innovate harder.
(*) Setting aside for a moment the thorny issue of whether some open source code infringes on others’ intellectual property.