Patents – a boon or a bane?

Recently someone claimed that XML is something that they have patented [News story]. A similar thing happened with JPEG patent [News story].

And then a survey was conducted by AAAS on A Descriptive Analysis of a Pilot Survey on the Effects of Patenting on Science. This survey has reported that 28% of the respondents have abandoned their research projects because of complex licensing negotiations. (How sad!)

There are 2 groups of people: one who support patents and ones who don't. The ones who support patents say that it is good and patents in fact are responsible for innovation to happen. The reasons they give are:
* Patents mean that you disclose something safely and the government grants you exclusive rights over your idea, which means that either another company will have to pay you for the use of your idea or they cannot use it.
* Patents result in people thinking in different ways than one, so that results in innovation.

Both seem to be good observations. But the ones who don't support patents say that, it is in fact hindering innovation. Patents are being misused, especially in the software world [A software patent debate in Wikipedia]. Many basic things, some very obvious things are patented and being misused. For example, extending software functionality has been patented in various forms (although extending something to provide extended/enhanced functionality seems obvious).

My personal take on the issue is that patents in their present form clearly hinder innovation. Keeping the business interests of companies in view, patent procedure should be modified so that misuse does not occur. Or else, there will be people who patent just about anything and everything that they can.

I had recently written about someone who had patented the method of swinging a swing.
While this is not just one of them, there is a very interesting blog entry here, which describes how a person patented a wheel to emphasize the flaws in the patenting system.

Let me end by telling you another shocker: 1/5 of All Human Genes Have Been Patented. So, you have in your body genes that are owned as patents by someone else! 🙂