Friday, September 3, 2010

The true value of an invention is its usefulness to the public

I quote from Andrew Grove:

"The true value of an invention is its usefulness to the public," he said, quoting Thomas Jefferson. The system in place in the Valley today is moving further and further away from this principle, he added. "Patents themselves have become products. They're instruments of investment traded on a separate market, often by speculators motivated by the highest financial return on their investment." 

Grove called this a break from past practice. "The most important invention of our industry, the invention of the transistor, was licensed by AT&T for $25,000," he said. "This allowed the transistor industry to develop and become a flourishing manufacturing industry in the United States." Grove continued: "By the time the integrated circuit arrived, the industry largely operated by cross licensing between companies so it really didn't matter, if the (Robert) Noyce patent or (Jack) Kilby patent prevailed--the result was the two companies could go on do their work." 

Not today, in his eyes. "The patent product brings financial derivatives to mind," he said. "Derivatives have a complex relationship with an underlying asset. While there's nothing wrong with them in principle, their unfettered use has damaged the financial services industry and possibly the entire economy.

"Do these patent instruments put us on a similar road?" he asked. "I fear our patent system increasingly serves those who invest in the patent products... It may be time to use Jefferson's principle as a test and ask if we meet it."

That is one of the main reasons why I think patents are a waste of time. The true value of an invention is its usefulness to the public. All those patent troll companies that are formed just to milk the royalties out of other innovative companies are in fact restricting innovation. If you allow easy access for others to build on top of each other's technology, you'll see more interesting technologies now.

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