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Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Fallacy called Patents -Time To Discipline!

Vivek Wadhwa writes,"Patents make a lot of sense in many industries; they are needed to protect the designs of important components or design of physical products. But in software these are just nuclear weapons in an arms race. They don’t foster innovation, they inhibit it. He adds, That’s because things change rapidly in this industry. Speed and technological obsolescence are the only protections that matter. Fledgling startups have to worry more about some big player or patent troll bankrupting them than they do about someone stealing their ideas". A recent Berkley patent survey shows,venture backed business file for more patents as against startups across industries including software. Brad Feld points out to the absurdity behind the idea of patents. Bob Warfield with multiple startup credits and himself a patent holder points out how difficult it is to fight suits against patent trolls. He points to several absurd situations that we all come across in the name of patents while defending genuine progress.

Earlier we covered why patent systems need to be disciplined and went to the extent of saying that its time to abolish patents for atleast software industry. On the other hand some people think that we have reached the dark age of innovation – Physicist Heubner says that rather than growing exponentially, or even keeping pace with population growth, major innovations & scientific advances peaked in 1873 and have been declining ever since. While examining number of patents granted in the US from 1790 to the present. when he plotted the number of US patents granted per decade divided by the country's population, he found the graph peaked in 1915. The global rate of innovation today, which is running at seven "important technological developments" per billion people per year, matches the rate in 1600. Despite far higher standards of education and massive R&D funding "it is more difficult now for people to develop new technology”.

Patents impede innovation and not encourage innovation. Innovation may be the core to success and it is not be mistaken against patents or R&D budgets. As Michael Scrage wrote brilliantly, the simple fact is that R&D spending is an input, not a measure of efficiency, effectiveness or productivity. Ingenuity, invention and innovation are rarely functions of budgetary investment & pointed to the fact that Wal-Mart, Texco and Dell have miniscule R&D budgets, their quality, procurement and growth requirements have probably done more to drive productive innovation investment than any competing initiatives. Growing market competition, not growing R&D spending, is what drives innovation. A successful innovation policy is a competition policy where companies see innovation as a cost-effective investment to differentiate themselves profitably. John Hagel adds that it is a fallacy in equating patents with innovation. Normally the focus is on product innovation, ignoring process and business model innovation. Process innovation is far more powerful than product innovation – it has a multiplier effect that product innovation can rarely match & notes that the only effective measure of innovation activity is the rate of productivity improvement in an enterprise – the growth in value added generated per employee. Static productivity measures can be misleading & what may really count is the ability to sustain and amplify productivity improvements through innovative products, process improvements or new business models. Lets all shout for more innovation and whatever comes in the way that may include patents – lets get rid of them!

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