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Harm caused by all types of patents

While most campaigns against software patents think it's better to focus specifically on excluding software, some people think the whole patent system should be abolished. This is of course another way to get rid of software patents.

These arguments are also useful for arguing that the patent system should be applied as narrowly as possible. E.g. patents involve so much litigation, bureaucracy and other costs, so they should only be applied to a domain (software or other) if a really strong case can be made for doing so. For software, a mountain of studies shows that this case is not made, so this type of argument is another way to argue for abolishing software patents.

Patents failing in general

As well as the protests against patents on software ideas, other fields where patents draw particular criticism are pharmaceuticals and agricultural products.

In September 2008, the staff of the EPO went on strike to complain about the decline in patent quality.[1][2] In May 2009, the EPO President Alison Brimelow announced she would be stepping down after less than two years in the job.[3] Also in May 2009, the EPO office in Munich was surrounded by pigs and tractors in a protest against patents on biotech.[4]

Comparison to hardware manufacturing

The problem of blocking useful freedoms, which is very clear for software, can be seen to an extent in other fields.

While individuals and communities often don't manufacture hardware (see the Amana Corporation and Community) they sometimes do, and even when they don't, the question of individual liberty is important. A device that was not operable by women for example would not be acceptable in most societies.

If someone patents a method for making hardware, it may not directly reduce people's liberty, however if may indirectly do so. For example a patent was recently issued for a propane powered lawnmower. Propane powered lawnmowers had been made by hobbyists for years, however the issuance of this patent makes converting a gasoline fueled lawnmower to propane fuel by a hobbyist illegal. It is possible that this patent was not legally issued, depending upon how the patent office rules are interpreted.

It has been argued that making and designing hardware requires a large amounts of money and materials, that there are laws and regulations that place restrictions on making various types of hardware. While this is true, anyone with a minimal amount of education can learn how to build large hardware projects, for an example in Scrappy Races competitors have to build Automobiles out of scrap with a limited budget, and race them across the United Kingdom. As an example of a patent that could affect this sort of competition is the one litigated in KSR vs Teleflex where the patent in question was invalidated by the Supreme Court of the United States. The patent covered a particular shape of lever, which was found to be obvious by the court.

All of the arguments against software patents, also apply to hardware patents. The issues are:

  1. Do we limit our effectiveness by only arguing against one issue?
  2. Do we make ourselves more effective by only arguing against one issue?
  3. Do we leave ourselves open to further attack at a later time by only arguing one issue?

Other arguments against patents

  • Companies and individuals will not cease to innovate if there were no patents. The software industry grew by leaps and bounds when there were no patent protection at all. Science papers are not patentable at all but the number of published science papers doubles every 10 years. So the argument that innovation and invention needs monopoly privileges to incentivize them is bull.
  • Ideas are dime a dozen so cost exactly $0.008 per Idea. Ideas that are so worthless should not be glorified by the government and the people and monopolized.
  • It is impossible to invent anything without infringing on someone's patent. All ideas are build on previous ideas.
  • Even if everyone were to stop inventing its not a big deal, as mankind is prosperous and advanced enough for me. So why encourage patents in the hope that people will invent more stuff? We don't need to invent anymore, though that wont stop anyone from inventing.
  • Patents stifle competition and thus harms innovation. For a small niggling improvement that I make on an automobile part I will have to negotiate with hundreds of other patentees in order to manufacture that part in order to benefit from my invention, a daunting task.
  • Patenting encourages the pharmaceutical industry to discard tried and tested drugs whose patents have expired in favor of new and dangerous drugs just so they can continue to milk mankind by poisoning it for their profit. Surely we don't need more poisonsous drugs than what is already there on the market.
  • Some of the most important ideas of mankind are unpatentable like Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein wasn't promised a single dime (through monopoly laws) for inventing relativity, that didn't stop him from inventing it.

Related pages on ESP Wiki

External links


Why abolish software patents
Why abolish software patents Why focus only on software · Why software is different · Software patent quality worse than all other fields · Harm caused by all types of patents
Legal arguments Software is math · Software is too abstract · Software does not make a computer a new machine · Harming freedom of expression · Blocking useful freedoms
High costs Costly legal costs · Cost of the patent system to governments · Cost barrier to market entry · Cost of defending yourself against patent litigation
Impact on society Restricting freedom Harm without litigation or direct threats · Free software projects harmed by software patents · More than patent trolls · More than innovation · Slow process creates uncertainty
Preventing progress Software relies on incremental development · Software progress happens without patents · Reducing innovation and research · Software development is low risk · Reducing job security · Harming education · Harming standards and compatibility
Disrupting the economy Used for sabotage · Controlling entire markets · Breaking common software distribution models · Blocking competing software · Harming smaller businesses · Harming all types of businesses · A bubble waiting to burst
Problems of the legal system Problems in law Clogging up the legal system · Disclosure is useless · Software patents are unreadable · Publishing information is made dangerous · Twenty year protection is too long
Problems in litigation Patent trolls · Patent ambush · Invalid patents remain unchallenged · Infringement is unavoidable · Inequality between small and large patent holders