Do Patents Stifle Innovation?

The Copyright Clause of the United States Constitution states that Congress shall have the authority to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”, and it specifies how Congress shall do so: “by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” See my article on what an indie needs to know about copyright for a primer on the topic.

Copyright, trademark, and patent laws were created to provide the latter in the hopes that it encourages the former. While anecdotal claims have been around for some time which insist that patents are stifling innovation, especially in the realm of software development, the prevailing view is that patents are good for innovation. Of course, that claim is also anecdotal.

Dr. Andrew W. Torrance and Dr. Bill Tomlinson simulated different types of patent systems, using PatentSim, which sounds like an MMO based around owning and utilizing patents. Based on their simulations, using different patent models, they found that the data “suggest that a system combining patent and open source protection for inventions (that is, similar to modern patent systems) generates significantly lower rates of innovation (p<0.05), productivity (p<0.001), and societal utility (p<0.002) than does a commons system.”

Read about the study at Patents and the Regress of Useful Arts.

Changing the US Patent system is tough, especially since so many businesses exist with an interest in keeping the status quo, but if promoting the useful arts and sciences can be more effective by NOT continuing with current practices, it sounds like “securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries” was an erroneous assumption on the part of the Founding Fathers.

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