The patent system worldwide is broken and here in the USA its about to get even worse. A new law that goes into effect March 16 2013 will change the patent system from "first to invent" (FTI) to "first to file" (FTF). The difference in these systems is that FTI attempts to ensure the true inventor has rights to his work. FTF on the other hand allows whoever files first to have rights tot he invention. With FTF it is no quite possible for people to steal and patent the inventions of others.
Even before this awful FTF policy, the patent system was seriously broken. In reality the one with the most money to spend on patents and litigation wins. While the patent system was intended to accelerate technology growth while properly compensating the true inventor it now does more of the exact opposite. The patent offices worldwide are allowing just about anything to be patented. Most of the patents granted in the last several decades are not for novel ideas at all. Many of the ideas will never even work. There are small companies that do nothing but patent around existing work of others for the sole purpose of suing for a living. The system takes money out of consumers hands and gives it to rich and powerful law firms and lawyers. The very fact that Microsoft makes more money on the initial sale of an Android device than the real creators of Android is disgusting. Android is free and open source. The general public pays it no attention, not realizing the price they are paying. In my opinion, software and algorithms should never be patent-able at all. Nor should we patent other not novel ideas. Before something is even given a patent it should have to pass a real test to show it is really a novel idea. Maybe something like this. Have the problems the patent solves presented to a class of college students in the same field (say at least 30 students). If 1 or more students comes up with a similar idea then the invention is not novel and does not get a patent. For instance, the idea that a smartphone is a rectangular device with rounded corners is patent-able is ridiculous.
When a person or small company actually does come up with a legitimate novel idea that is worthy of a patent, all it takes is good lawyers and rich companies to patent around it. What I mean by that is you can make patents that essentially lock the original patent in a cocoon such that it can not be implemented without depending on the other patents around it. The real inventor is eventually paid a small amount for his work. Sure, there are some examples where this is not true. However it has been getting worse over time.
The patent systems worldwide cost consumers far more than they think and puts the money in the hands of rich and powerful companies, law firms, and lawyers. It is stealing from the real inventors and making the rich richer.
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