Interestingly, right after my previous diatribe I sat down to read the latest economist and saw this article about the problems with the US patent system: http://www.economist.com/node/21526370. Then, lo and behold, the most recent Wired magazine has an article about my former employer (Kodak) being forced to become a patent troll: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/08/patent-game-kodak. It’s the laws & patent system, it’s not the companies taking advantage of it that are the problem. (Arggghhh… And maybe if Kodak hadn’t shelved their prototype digital camera in favour of the crappy Kodak Disc camera in the early 80s, Rochester would be a compelling place to live again.)
2011 might be remembered for a lot of things, but to me it’s the year that the world finally woke up to the mess with the US patent system — to which many of the other country’s patent systems are of secondary importance. (And when I say “woke up”, I don’t mean “woke up and solved“. ) Anyway, here’s the problem: Granting patents for questionable & intangible ideas to people/organizations that didn’t really “invent” those ideas, combined with a legal system that is way in over its head trying to assess the validity of such patents has led to an economy based on faux-IP rather than true innovation. It means that we’re not manufacturing as much and we’re not creating as much value from real and important innovation. This is all just the opposite of what patents are supposed to do.
Gary Yurkovich recently posted the following comment on LinkedIn: “Remember when Apple was innovative with good products? Now it competes best in courtroom. http://zd.net/pcGm0j“. True, but while patent-litigation over innovation seems to be the trend (see http://www.economist.com/node/21525096 ), I don’t blame Apple. The patent system is broken, not Apple. It’s the ease with which one can now patent things like blatantly obvious software implementations that is the problem (i.e. vague “innovations” that should never be patentable), and Apple is just reacting rationally.
Apple actually innovates better than most: Eg.where’s the competition for ipad when the likes of HP quit at the 1st sign of heavy sailing? That’s Leo Apotheker trying to turn HP into the next SAP and is a very sad development (whither manufacturing?). It truly angers me, having cut my teeth on DEC which was eventually bought Compaq, which was eventually bought by HP, which … has given up the fight.