A lot of people don’t like patents, especially on software. Patents are supposed to encourage innovation by giving an incentive to inventors to invent. In practice, our current patent system fails – it seems – to meet this objective.
The problem is that innovators must stand on the shouldres of giants. You can’t just invent something out of the blue, an invention is almost always an improvement on some other invention. If the latter is covered by a patent, you’ll need a license from the patent holder to sell yours.
But what if you could easily get a license to use someone else’s patent to sell your invention, and the patent holder could do nothing to stop you? Imagine if patents followed the open source philosophy – free to modify, but pay it forward.
It would only take one big tech giant to start issuing patents with such strings attached – licenses, granted in perpetuity, that read something like this:
Open Patent License:
- We, <patent holder> grant an irrevocable free license to use the invention outlined here for the purpose of using patented inventions that are derived from this one.
- This license is granted on the condition that a similar Open Patent License be granted on any derivative patents
This would, naturally, have to be translated by a legal team into something sufficiently watertight. Imagine, now, if the intellectual property landscape was seeded with patents licenced like this. Companies holding such patents would profit from their inventions. No copycats. Innovators, however, would be welcome to base new inventions off the old – as long as they patented these new inventions and covered them with similar licenses. In this way, the Open Patent License seeds would grow to fill entire industry segments. Eventually, almost every invention would be covered under one – there would be so many Open Patent Licensed patents that only the most trivial (read : unpatentable) innovations would escape being covered by one.
In industries such as this, innovation would become easy, unfettered by patent battles – especially as the older closed patents began to expire one by one. In industries (if such exist) where innovation is commonplace without standing on the shoulders of giants, Open Patents would not take off – but then again, such industries should not be troubled by the problem of patents holding up innovation.