Patents don't stifle innovation; they work to protect the innovators and original inventors who have their own skin in the game. That's the word from inventor and Uniloc founder Ric Richardson, who can't fathom a world without patent protections.
Richardson is no stranger to the benefit of filing a patent. In mid-2009, the Australian inventor won US$388 million in damages from Microsoft, after the company was found to be using his ideas without his knowledge or consent. It was because he obtained solid advice from legally minded colleagues that he was able to secure his patent-infringement win.
However, while the patent system worked in his favour, there are many who think it's outdated and stifles innovation.
Richardson disagreed today at an IP Australia forum with the notion that patents, particularly those on software, stymie innovation, adding that big companies aren't all out to squash and steal from the "little guys". Instead, he said that big companies are looking at prominent patent filings as part of their acquisition strategies.
"I personally don't see a lot of small guys getting quashed by big guys, because, in the end, if you do have a patent that protects what you're doing, [corporations] actually value that.
"If you actually have something that's unique, and you stop and say, 'OK, has anyone done this?' and subsequently protect it, that makes you a valuable target, rather than a target to be squashed," Richardson said.
The Uniloc founder added that by removing patents, particularly from the software space, the effect would be tantamount to encouraging intellectual property theft. He added that without software patents, only the biggest players would benefit from original ideas, rather than the person who had conceived the idea in the first place.
"What you say about [patents] stymieing innovation is wrong in my mind. You have great ideas in software development, and you should benefit from coming up with a great idea. To go and say everything should be free and it's only the guy that can go the fastest ... [that] will get to market is the one that should benefit from it is to encourage stealing.
"That's encouraging [companies] to employ people in software companies to just take home whatever they're generating every day, and bring it to repository and sell it as quickly as possible. That's the reality of it," Richardson said.
Richardson added that if he had it his way, he'd teach every IT student in Australia how to patent their own inventions, so that inventors are protected when they put their own skin in the game. Short of that, he said that new inventors just need to get someone to give them great advice. Without it, you can get burned, but it's not the end of the world.
"[To maintain your copyright] you just need to not be a nong, and [instead] get the right advice at the beginning of the process. Everything's fair in love and war. People make decisions that aren't fair, and then you learn from that, so that the next time you'll bring a lawyer in, like I did. It ended up being the most valuable thing the company ever did," he said.