Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Future-Proofing: Intellectual Property (Part 2 of 3)

Last time I gave an introduction to copyrights and patents.  It is through this mechanism that many advances in technology and culture are made because through this encourages people to take risks and profit from ideas which prove beneficial to mankind.

But patents are not as objective as other laws, like theft and murder, which are much more objective.  There exists a lot of “wiggle room” when it comes to defining what is a violation of a patent and what is not.  Here is where the lawyers and law-makers work their magic.

In the United States, patent law and intellectual property laws in general, are considered too strict.  What I mean by this is that it is considered too easy to sue a company for violations.  This has created a cottage industry where companies exist, which never make a product or offer a service.  But these companies will rent out a small office space, put a name plate on the door, but are “never open for business”.  They hire no employees.  But they are extremely willing to sue someone else for alleged patent violations.  As one of their slogans puts it, “Look at many ideas.  Pick an outstanding one.  Patent it.  Commercialize it.  Reap the rewards.”  They are known as Patent Trolls.

Note that making a product or making significant improvements to an existing product is never mentioned.  Just patent an idea, and wait until someone else independently does something with this idea , the patent troll will sue.

This has led to some pretty silly lawsuits over the years, but because patent law is this way, these suits have merit.  Namco has a patent which prevents playing mini-games during a loading screen.  Simpson’s Road Rage had to change an arrow which points where you should go in a driving game to a finger because the arrow violated a patent.

Clearly, this kind of patent abuse is not what Thomas Jefferson and others had in mind when they founded the patent laws.  Next time, I’ll wrap up by going into the Wildcat lawsuit against WotC in detail.

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