Summary: Criticism of the patent system is increasing and abolishment too is being considered for what became a hindrance — not a facilitator — to science
Filed under post slug “Patent Fail”, the following new post from Tim Bray is an expression of hatred of patents (Bray works for Oracle, but opinions in his blog are personal). He titled it “Giving Up On Patents”:
Not so many years ago, even as I was filled with fear and loathing of the hideous misconduct of the US Patent & Trademark Office, I retained some respect for the notion of patents. I even wrote what I think is an unusually easy-to-read introduction to Patent Theory. But no more. The whole thing is too broken to be fixed. Maybe it worked once, but it doesn’t any more. The patent system needs to be torn down and thrown out.
And here are a few words for the huge community of legal professionals who make their living pursuing patent law: You’re actively damaging society. Look in the mirror and find something better to do.
Maybe Bray can confront his employer over this*. Among those new articles that he cites is this excellent Mises analysis which uses the confusing term “IP”:
How should the IP system be reformed? For those with a principled, libertarian view of property rights, it is obvious that patent and copyright laws are unjust and should be completely abolished. Total abolition is, however, exceedingly unlikely at present. Further, most people favor IP for less principled, utilitarian reasons. They take a wealth-maximization approach to policy making. They favor patent and copyright law because they believe that it generates net wealth — that the value of the innovation stimulated by IP law is significantly greater than the costs of these laws.
What is striking is that this myth is widely believed even though the IP proponents can adduce no evidence in favor of this hypothesis. There are literally no studies clearly showing any net gains from IP. If anything, it appears that the patent system, for example, imposes a gigantic net cost on the economy (approximately $31 billion a year, in my estimate). In any case, even those who support IP on cost-benefit grounds have to acknowledge the costs of the system, and they should not oppose changes to IP law that significantly reduce these costs, so long as the change does not drastically reduce the innovation gains that IP purportedly stimulates. In other words, according to the reasoning of IP advocates, if weakening patent strength reduces costs more than it reduces gains, this results in a net gain.
Economists recognise the fact that patents are harmful and so do engineers. But as long as lawyers run our governments and collude with other lawyers [1, 2], rules will be established by the wrong people. It’s a battle between creators and leeches of these creators. A lot of people may not remember this, but Bill Gates was bound to be a lawyer, raised by a prominent (and apparently corrupt) lawyer, so he is not an engineer. Tim Berners-Lee, a true innovator, says that “software patents are a terrible thing”, but Microsoft still uses these for racketeering [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7], even this week. █
* I had arguments with Sun about the subject (but a lot of employees suppress their own opinion because of a paycheck).