Monday, September 12, 2005

Patent Atrocity Alert

by Tom Bozzo

Over at Dartblog, Joe Malchow notes at Dartblog that Microsoft was awarded a patent for double-clicking. Is this a frickin' joke? Sadly, no. (With apologies to Sadly, No!) Can we all agree that no implementation of hierarchical menus or of modified button presses is nonobvious?
I'm surprised that economists (usually in favour of a small government and fully free markets) advocate a system (the patent one, especially the patent on algorithm/software/interfaces/file formats/business methods) where the government is supposed to decide for all of us what ideas are good or not and then grants a state sponsored monopoly (market horror) on the use such an idea for twenty years, and then say look "this patent is stupid". Competition on implementation, time to market, improvements, incentive small companies entering the market to dislodge big ones (patent pooled)? All gone.

Laurent, welcome.

Economists are generally sensitive to the tradeoffs in the patent system between the benefits from encouraging useful innovations and the costs of allowing a lot of limited monopolies. It's possible for those tradeoffs to be weighed such that particular patents (or even classes of patents) are "stupid" or counterproductive without the entire system being stupid.

Also, I think in the right circles you could find economists keenly interested in alternative policies to patents for promoting innovation.
Tom, thanks you for your answer. So far of economists that participated in the European software patent debates said software patents are the best thing since sliced bread and that without them it would be total chaos, especially for SME the say (the biggest pan European SME union was against software patent but that doesn't change economists point of view).

I've seen economists praising software patents in economics conference, and read the European Commission white paper on the subject (written by an economist).

So, yes I'm really interested on economists with some weight looking for alternatives :).

Thanks in advance,

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