Do Patents Hinder Innovation?

We’ve seen a lot of Intellectual Property litigation lately. Frugal Dad did some research and prepared an infographic.

Take a moment to read it and then tell us in the comments what you think about patents and how they apply to the tactical industry.

patents infographic


18 Responses to “Do Patents Hinder Innovation?”

  1. Matthew K. says:

    Very informative, thank you. I had learned a lot about patent trolls and companies that claim to have 1000+ patents, but make nothing. Nice to know the proper industry terms for it.

  2. HalP says:

    I admit – sometimes I wonder what companies and start-ups could accomplish if a bunch of patents didn’t get in the way.

    But patents, I think, also encourage innovation elsewhere, by necessity. It certainly makes things more difficult to accomplish, yet it encourages competition.

  3. GregK says:

    Patents absolutely kill innovation, mostly due to the USPTO granting patents to either obvious ideas or ideas which are already in the prior art. Compounding that problem is the astronomical cost of even the most simple patent litigation.

    My company builds camera straps (reading Soldier Systems is all about seeing the cutting edge of hard-use soft goods). We started building camera slings after one of our competitors popularized the idea, but their implementation left a lot to be desired. Single point sliding camera slings are nothing new – the concept dates to the late 1800s with a calvary rifle sling and Leica sold a strap that connects to the tripod socket and slides up and down back in the 1960s. In other words – there is clear and definitive prior art covering the idea, making it unpatentable.

    Unfortunately however, USPTO granted the competition a patent and we quickly received an aggressive cease and desist letter that included a threat to come after us *personally* for damages. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that licensing would not be an option. Our attorneys felt we had a strong case, but the cost of going in front of a judge, showing the prior art and having the patent invalidated was estimated to be in the low 6 figures. Honestly, we didn’t have that sort of scratch in the bank and, even if we did, it’s hard to justify consuming the business over such a thing.

    In the end, we took our product off of the market and used the cash on hand to rapidly accelerate the development of a new product that we had slowly been working on for months. As stressful and consuming as the whole event was, I think we came out ahed and have a better product and a stronger business.

  4. HalP says:

    Let’s try this again. Every now and then I wonder what companies and start-ups could accomplish if a bunch of patents didn’t get in the way.

    But patents, I think, also encourage innovation elsewhere, by necessity. It certainly makes things more difficult to accomplish, yet it encourages competition.

    Like my economics prof always said, “There is a trade-off for everything”

  5. Jack says:

    Very interesting and informative. Thanks for posting this.

  6. Strike-Hold! says:

    I’m reminded of certain other proceedings to do with “copyright” that are floating about at the moment too…

  7. Jim Faier says:

    As always, one man’s wrong is another man’s right. I’ve heard many people question whether they should invest in developing new technology “when somebody else is just going to steal it.” We have our patent laws to encourage inventors to share their innovations. We make a bargain with them that if they will teach us their invention, then we will give them a monopoly for about 17-years (20-years from filing the application). You will judge for yourself whether that is a fair deal for the inventor or society. The alternative might be that inventors would not invest in innovation or they would guard their innovations from public disclosure. Is that better for the world? Some would say an inventor whose invention is stolen should resort to violence to settle the score. Well, however imperfect, we have our laws to provide another option for settling a dispute. I’ve heard some people take out of context Shakespeare’s quip, “First thing we do is kill all the lawyers” from Henry VI, part 2, Act IV, Scene ii. Those that quote that statement frequently ignore that the conversation in which the statement is made is two men talking about how they will take over the government and change the laws to help themselves. But they know that their scheme will only work if they first kill all the lawyers. While our system is not perfect, I think it has served us well. No doubt we could have a better system if we had enough patent examiners that a patent could issue within a year of filing. That, though, is a political decision as to whether we will fund the patent office sufficiently to provide the staff it needs.

  8. Gray says:

    Guy Cramer is incensed by this infographic.

  9. mike says:

    Patents 100% stifle innovation. The concept of owning an idea is preposterous and while I get that there is supposed to be a way to reward innovation and idea generation it usually locks good ideas down. Plenty of great ideas held by bottom-shelf companies that would thrive if other companies had the chance to produce them at a higher quality.

  10. jellydonut says:

    Patents do kill innovation. I suggest that everyone with an open mind read ‘Against Intellectual Monopoly’, which thoroughly tells the history of patent law and how intellectual property law in general has hindered innovation, ever since the steam engine and the light bulb.

    Books were written and published, music (Beethoven and Mozart, mind you, not Nickelback and Hannah Montana) was written and published, and inventions were created, built and sold, all without IP laws. The modern spreading of fear, uncertainty and doubt regarding IP reform is just that. FUD. Patent holding is rent seeking.

  11. Dan says:

    I guess my opinion is a bit more, well inside knowledge based than i thought it was, simply put the problem is not the Patent itself its that the USPTO in particular and global patent system as a whole in an attempt to stream line and speed up the approval system don’t do the amount of searches for Prior art that they used to, and in the case of the USPTO they are testing out a Crowd sourcing system for Prior art to make the examiners more efficient seen as the main focus is to get the back log of patent applications down rather than making sure that the most exhaustive searches for Prior art have occurred, so items like actual Graphical User Interfaces can get through the patent system not just the software that enables them.

    along with this there have been a few court decisions that changed how the USPTO treats Software in general, it used to be that only OS’s and Programing languages could be patented, but due to some court decisions the USPTO has been forced to allow patents for any software or even sub sections of code that are sent through the process.

  12. UVR says:

    “Patents don’t kill (innovation), people kill (innovation)”

    Hey, that is catchy, perhaps I should copyright it?

    Patents enable some people to bring forward good ideas and implement them. It is not inexpensive to patent and nothing to enter into lightly.

    Like any other tools, a patent may be misused. Yes, we have patent pirates. Two infamous examples in the past twenty years were the patenting of turmeric – a common spice of India – being patented in the US for medicinal purposes. The US patent holders told the turmeric harvesters and merchants of India that all turmeric would now carry a feu to the patent holders. Fortunately, after a time, the Indian government (which does not itself allow plants or genes to be patented) proved to the USPTO that turmeric had been used medicinally in India for thousands of years and brought the ancient Sanskrit documents to prove it.

    A Colorado fellow did the same thing with some edible beans he bought in Mexico; effectively stopping the sale of yellow beans to the US. It took a while to prove that he should never have received the patent.

    Some patents should not be issued; but neither should some drivers’ licenses. The system is not perfect and is open to abuse; ditto the highways. But right now, the benefits of the patent system to independent inventors keeps us going.

  13. Shink says:

    Dummies, quit drinking the “big bad companies” juice…

    Without patents, no-one would invest a dime in innovation because they would know that the competition would simply copy them upon release of a new product…you talk about killing innovation.
    Yes, some patents are problematic, but it’s really nothing in comparison to what the business environment would be like without them.
    Frugaldad has a bit too much of an “occupy wall street”, mentality for me. At some points, he’s a downright collectivist.

    Patents = good, copycats = bad.

  14. Warfighter says:

    Patents have pros and cons, like everything else in life.

    I think the big issue are the trolls. Use it or lose it should be the paradigm that applies here. If you hold a patent that you can’t demonstrate that you are actively trying to deliver a product with (beware of more smoke and mirrors, of course), then it should be open to others to use.