The Idea Dude


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Whose idea is it anyway?

I read with interest Kane Kramer's lament of being the world's biggest failure because he lost his right to a patent that was supposedly everything the iPod became. If you follow the RIM patent infringement debacle, there's a similar thread there. My take is that the patent system should be there to support the inventor to ensure that he or she had a fair opportunity to make money off an idea and not be steam-rollered by big companies who can simply do it better and faster because of better resources and access to markets. I'm especially against folks who cry wolf after the fact and demand billions of dollars from others made legitimately through hard work. In the early days of fax, there were some who demanded retribution because they had a patent that described the transfer of information across two electrical wires. The rule should be if you had a patent and are in the business of using the patent in your business you have a legitimate right to protection from the justice system. Somehow, the patent law like the 5th amendment has been abused in ways that are despicable to decent folk.

What the Internet and the startup business has taught me is that if you think you have a great idea and it is really a good one, chances are there are at least 20 other people around the world who have thought of or are thinking of the same thing. That was one of the great takeaways I remember from a Guy Kawasaki talk in the late 90's. Most VC's stopped signing NDAs because of that fact. If I got a million dollars for every idea that came to pass couple years later, I could fund a small country. That doesn't stop me from lamenting the fact but it doesn't drive me to feel like I should patent my ideas in the hopes I can make money off others at a later date. Lawyers who buy up patents or create patent portfolios should be reclassified as organized crime because they are simply making money off the backs of others.

The move to put patents in creative commons for use in open source is applauded because it means that the innovation is a contribution to the advancement of mankind. We are free to use it as part of our business model. Don't get me started on why people are allowed to patent business models either.

Small entrepreneurs should not start their companies in the fear they may get sued for infringement or have to pony up thousands of dollars to create patents that are obscure and dripping in legal jargon as an insurance policy. We should be focusing our energies in being the most innovative and intelligent organisms on the planet.

So Mr Kane, you were not the world's biggest loser because you lost your rights to a patent, you should console yourself that you never had a benefactor called Steve Jobs and should be proud that you had thought of an idea that was way before its time.

If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is there, did it make a noise?


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