Patent Wars: Stagnation of Innovation & Rise of Litigation

By OctaneGo, July 25, 2012 | Tips & Resources

Perhaps the original creators of patent laws had the welfare of innovators in mind, but modern businesses are using patents for altogether different purposes. On any given day there are at least a handful of news items covering new patent lawsuits or reporting the progress of existing ones. Google and Oracle recently locked horns over the use of the Java programming language in the Android operating system; Apple and Samsung are engaged in a bitter, ongoing flame war over hardware design; Yahoo! recently catapulted itself back into limelight when it bested Facebook in a patent case and Microsoft makes a handsome profit off Android hardware manufacturers using its patents. What’s going on?

The Steep Rise In Patent Lawsuits

It doesn’t take much research to figure out that patents have stopped being the protectors of innovation they were once thought to be and have instead become a constant driver of litigation. These days, large companies file, own and collect at least thousands of patents every year which they then use as weapons to either stifle competition or exhort money.

There are unproductive companies that exist solely for the purpose of patent collection and then launching lawsuits threatening other productive companies big and small. These patent trolls base their business model and income on the fact that it becomes increasingly expensive to fight constant lawsuits and it is usually more affordable to just settle.

Productive companies want to stay out of trouble, even if it means paying for it regularly for no good reason. The overall problem is much deeper – If everyone around you is playing it dirty and the only way to remain competitive is by twisting a few arms, then what choice do you have?

Using that logic, productive technology companies are also now hording patents. Patent litigation is being used by major corporations around the world to try to block competing products and create monopolies. Even if one company manages to get a court to block a competitor’s product for a few days from going on sale, it becomes a massive advantage in the marketplace.

And that is the scary part! If companies get used to selling their products only because there is no competition, then will they even try to innovate or push technology forward? Or will they start being complacent because the customer has no other choice? That is how innovation and creativity start to suffer and stagnation sets in.

Patents Need To Evolve

With companies loosing patience with each other and courts getting tangled in unnecessary cases, it seems like it is high time now that patent laws were revisited. What can or cannot be patented, or should be patented for that matter, is an issue that needs grave reconsideration. This, along with an industry wide commitment towards collaboration in innovation rather than competition through litigation, would give rise to an open source type of movement that can only be good not only for the consumers, but also for technology companies themselves.

We must ask ourselves how far this patent senselessness can go and for how long. If the industry doesn’t self-regulate soon, then these courtroom and PR battles will keep increasing in frequency and escalating in costs; all the while not contributing anything towards innovation or technological revolution.

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