According to Wikipedia,

A Patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a state (national government) to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention. The exclusive right granted to a patentee in most countries is the right to prevent others from making, using, selling, or distributing the patented invention without permission.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The hard fact lies beneath. Patents are granted for an uncomfortably long duration of  time. And companies are, and have been using, or rather abusing, the patent system to cut down on competition and kill creativity.

The instant question that comes to the mind after reading the above statement is that “Mr Singh, are you referring to the Microsoft and Android patent wars and extortion?” My answer would be yes. The world thinks that Microsoft and Apple are evil corporations that do not have anything else to do rather than bug small time firms, which are already hard on cash, with their lousy patent wars.

But they did not come with this ingenious idea by themselves. Probability is that someone from these companies might have had read history. And there goes a story 30 years prior to the present day.

When Sun microsystems was still in its infancy, in 1980, a team of men dressed in dark blue  suits visited its office to tell Sun that it was infringing seven of  IBM’s patents. In the largest conference room Sun had, they all crammed up along with the employees of Sun, all of who had engineering and law degrees.

After IBM presented them with a “presentation” on how Sun infringed on IBM’s patents, Sun meticulously busted their claims on a whiteboard.

The chief blue suit orchestrated the presentation of the seven patents IBM claimed were infringed, the most prominent of which was IBM’s notorious “fat lines” patent: To turn a thin line on a computer screen into a broad line, you go up and down an equal distance from the ends of the thin line and then connect the four points. You probably learned this technique for turning a line into a rectangle in seventh-grade geometry, and, doubtless, you believe it was devised by Euclid or some such 3,000-year-old thinker. Not according to the examiners of the USPTO, who awarded IBM a patent on the process.

After Sun had ingeniously defended its stance and proved that only one of the seven IBM patents would be deemed valid by a court, and no rational court would find that Sun’s technology infringed even that one.

An awkward silence ensued. The blue suits did not even confer among themselves. They just sat there, stonelike. Finally, the chief suit responded. “OK,” he said, “maybe you don’t infringe these seven patents. But we have 10,000 U.S. patents. Do you really want us to go back to Armonk [IBM headquarters in New York] and find seven patents you do infringe? Or do you want to make this easy and just pay us $20 million?”
After a modest bit of negotiation, Sun cut IBM a check, and the blue suits went to the next company on their hit list.

Now comes  the story of the developers in the US. Apparently, app developers are withdrawing their apps from the US App store and the Android Market for no reason other than the fear of a lawsuit from corporations like MS, Apple, and companies like an Lodsys and similar kind who have gone on a patent trolling crusade.

These patents have grown up into a revenue generating tool. The trick is simple, you just find a small time company who infringes a part of your patent, and you threaten it with a choice: lawsuit or extortion. The small time developers, even if they are not guilty, are not able to bear the costs of defending themselves. They eventually have to give up.

Developers have responded to this with comments like

…selling software in the US has already reached the non-viable tipping point

…starting to get seriously concerned about my future as a software developer due to these patent issues

…far too dangerous to do business in the US because of the risk of software patent lawsuits.

Screen shot The story of patent wars and developer woes

Just imagine the tremendous loss of the consumer and creativity alike.

We wonder if the current patent system makes any sense for a free market economy? Even a child would deduce that the patent system, combined with extortion would do nothing more  than killing the introduction of new and better products.

Readers are welcome to share their thoughts on the same.

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