Our patent system was originally designed to encourage innovation. Therefore, we gave people legal protection against their works being copied for a short period while they recouped their investment.
The thinking behind it was that this would allow the inventor a time period to open up his distribution channels and establish himself as the market leader before the more established companies came in and copied his idea.
Since communication and transportation systems were in their infancy, governments granted longer durations of patents and copyrights. After all, your new widgets might take months to just make it over to the other side of the country. But today we have the internet, we have airplanes, we mass ship merchandise in shipping crates. The fact is that distribution channels are much faster and more efficient than they were a couple hundred years ago.
Unfortunately, the patent system has not kept up. In fact, it has turned into a method to force out the little guys. There are entire patent trolling law firms (when malpractice laws went into place, many lawyers chose to move to “greener” pastures like frivolous patent suits). There are even very large companies that make most of their money by enforcing frivolous patents.
Almost every tech firm in Silicon Valley gets sued for some type of patent infringement. Companies are sued for simple things like using a double click, or creating an easy to use interface on a digital music device. The fact is, the IP system (intellectual property) has morphed into something it was never meant to be.
There are a few things that can be done to reform intellectual property laws. Here are a few:
- Shorten Patent Length – 3 year term from filing date (10 year term on medicine due to FDA approval process)
- Limit standing to sue to companies who actually have a product fulfilling their patent (No real product? Then you cannot sue).
- Shorten term to 10 years since modern printing and digital distribution methods are faster.
- Cannot sue for more than the market price of distributed material.
- No renewals. After term, it goes to the public domain.
- Derivative works are considered unique.
- Repeal DMCA and exit the World Trade Organization (since they require U.S. laws to comply with their regulations)
- Should be limited in nature.
- Very specific, not general. (i.e. A white swoosh looking exactly like this)
Of course, companies could choose not to copyright or patent at all. Instead they could hide the “trade secret,” making it impossible for other companies to copy their idea without reverse engineering.
These reforms would give inventors that initial edge without being too restrictive on innovation. We need an IP system that accounts for reality. People will only respect a system as long as the demands are reasonable. Perpetual copyrights and patents on general ideas are not reasonable. This is a better way that will not only encourage innovation, but will cause it to flourish.