Revisiting software patents

I wrote about software patents a while ago. Some of the comments I received raised what I found to be important points. Instead of attending them there, I have decided to elaborate on them with a new post.

How do you distinguish between someone stealing your idea and creating and marketing a successful product, and someone thinking up of the same idea themselves and creating and marketing a successful product? I don’t think you can. And what you would do to stop the person who stole your idea from making a fortune out of it, you would also do to the one who didn’t steal your idea but thought up of it themselves.

Ask anyone who has made a fortune in the software industry and they will tell you that ideas are cheap. If you won’t come up with a winning idea and act on it fast, someone else will. Thinking that someone else cannot is plain stupid. In the software industry, stuff like time-to-market, reliability, and feature-set (among others) of a product are much more important than anything else.

A market thrives when there is competition in it. The ferocity of competition ultimately defines how great a market is. In a great market, ideas are cheap. What you make of those ideas and how fast is what matters. You will find countless people out there who have had at some point in their lives excellent ideas, but had neither the expertise nor the resources to build on those ideas or build them in time. In order to beat your competition, you have to act fast. There is no other way to it. And if you are going to sit back and bask in the glory of the fact that you have conceived a great idea that will bring you fortune, someone is going to go ahead, put all earnest effort, build on that idea, market it, and actually make a fortune out of it. The fact that whether they stole your idea or thought up of it at the same time that you did is irrelevant. They captured the market with a brilliant product, and you did not.

The fact that being a patent owner gives you the excuse to openly limit or affect your competition on grounds of patent infringement is perhaps the biggest downside of patents. You would argue about ‘prior art’, and the fact that patents can be challenged, but let’s be honest: legal battles take anywhere from months to years to settle, and cost lots of money. Bigger companies can afford both the time and money, but smaller ventures that have created excellent products and started to make a name for themselves in the market get hurt badly. Small ventures don’t have the money nor the time to bear the brunt of the legal battles, and as such, end up getting either destroyed or damaged immensely.

The process of granting a patent takes so long (often, years) that you would think that a Reexamination of a patent would also take as much time if not more. I may be wrong, but I have not heard of any reexamination process against a patent ever getting anywhere (don’t hesitate to correct me if I am wrong).

That is all I will say for now.