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Thinking about patents

I met up with a close friend a couple of weeks ago in Palo Alto. 

He has been building a highly sophisticated product. And if it works, it will significantly change a lot of things (for the better) 

He’s a big fan of patents. He recognizes the flaws with our patent system today but he doesn’t want to get of them. He wants to make them better. 

My friend Brad Feld has been a thought leader with those sharing the opposite view. Brad has been saying for years that we should get rid of software patents. Earlier this year Brad sent me the book “Math You Can’t Use”. Somehow I slogged thru it – it was a tad bit dry :)

The book makes a convincing argument. The essential point is that software is a combination of art and math. Art is protected under copyright and you can’t/shouldn’t protect math.

There are a few things I hate about our current patent system. First, the patent office has approved senseless claims. Second, big companies sue small companies over their claims and the little company doesn’t have a chance. And those two things in combination are a nightmare.

But here’s the thing: how do we protect the little guy’s intellectual property?

For example if TiVo didn’t have patents, every MSO and satellite operator would have ripped off the Tivo method for digital video recording. TiVo recently won a lawsuit with Echostar over these patents. I bet those patents are one of the reasons Comcast is working with TiVo. 

I don’t have the final answer but I’m looking for a system that rewards the entrepreneur, motivates him/her to keep innovating on really hard problems and prevents large companies from waging bullying legal tactics.

Is that so much to ask!