Just recently, Samsung reportedly filed a patent for a supposedly novel unlock feature on their future smartphones. If Samsung did apply, it is very likely that they will get it. I find myself hoping that the core details of this “invention” are lost on us. It’s either that or it’s an elaborate hoax.

Patents are a form of Intellectual Property Rights that should apply only to new, inventive and industrially applicable ideas. It is appalling, the kind of tech patents that are approved these days. Patents for obvious and very minor improvements on existing tech are granted very easily on a first-come-first serve basis. I mean, a 5-year old could have easily come up with rounded rectangles yet, Apple got the patent.

Maybe it’s time these patent laws were reviewed. Here are 3 reasons why:

The concept of Intellectual Property is inherently flawed

According to Stephen Kinsella on Why ‘Intellectual Property’ is not Genuine Property, the purpose of original Property Rights was to address the problem of natural scarcity of property in the real world.  Intellectual properties, or ideas, are not real property. They can’t be held, neither can they be scare, because they can be reused over and over again, by multiple people simultaneously, without affecting other people’s ability to do the same. The concept of granting rights on “intellectual property” is essentially forcing scarcity on a resource that is indeed not scarce. So Intellectual Property Rights are really a serious infringement of traditional Property Rights, because everyone has a right to use whatever belongs to him/her to do whatever he/she wants. I really haven’t infringed on your property rights if I use my own tools and faculties to make better versions of your creation or idea.

Patent bullying and trolling

Patent laws, as they currently are, actually slow down innovation. They are increasingly becoming tools used by bigger corporations to “bully off” competition. It’s really not a new phenomenon. James Watt, inventor of the Watt Steam Engine in the mid 18th century, was a hell of a patent bully. After obtaining his patent, he practically spent the rest of his days fighting off rival inventors. Inventors who often had better implementations of his idea. Ironically, James Watt did not invent the Steam Engine, he only improved on it. Had someone got the patent before him, he would never have the chance to build his. He’s often blamed for delaying the Industrial Revolution for at least 20 years. It’s a similar situation today.The Samsung versus Apple saga comes to mind.

There’s also the annoyance of patent trolls – groups, who take advantage of loopholes in the system to amass patents and use them against vulnerable companies. Patent definitions are often so very broad, that just about anyone would fall victim. Some of the more notorious patent trolls, like Intellectual Ventures, are apparently making profitable careers out of such practices.

The consumers bear the costs

The increasing rates at which tech patents are being granted also have huge cost implications, particularly for the consumers. With most big corporations owning patents in thousands, not only is it expensive obtaining and maintaining, protecting them apparently costs a lot of money. Companies can’t help but factor these costs into retail price of their products; it’s only natural. Take mobile phones for example, most are manufactured in China under extremely cheap labour conditions. The iPhone 5s (essentially a glorified iPhone 5) costs way below $300 to manufacture, but sells for as much as $849 unsubsidized. Apple will of course tie this price difference majorly to “research and development”. I wonder how much R&D went into developing the “oh-so-novel” fingerprint reader. It’s just one of the many things a company like Apple can get away with. But of course, they’re not alone; everyone else is involved.

Image source: Apple Insider

Muyiwa Matuluko Author

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