There’s an excellent chance that I’m not the first to tell you, but episode 441 of This American Life, “When Patents Attack,” is a great use of 60 minutes. Fantastic reporting on a very important problem.
I think the technology sector, in particular the software subset of that sector, is the most promising engine for economic growth in the coming decades, but the mafia-like patent troll industry will be a major barrier to entry. Abusive patent hoarding stops innovation in its tracks, scares off would-be-successful entrepreneurs, and causes artificial price inflation through the parasitic bleeding out of existing companies.
It’s not an easy problem to solve because the “trolls” aren’t doing anything illegal. They’re merely the beneficiaries of a legal system that doesn’t work in an economy that produces products made of knowledge and idea combinations rather than physical matter.
This is coming to a head in the software industry because software, in my opinion, is just a natural extension of an exploding knowledge economy.
Software products are merely the dipolar arrangement of ideas on a magnetic disk. In a very basic sense, all computer programs and apps are composed of only two ideas: the idea of a 1 and the idea of a 0. Great developers create new combinations of these two ideas just like great novelists create new combinations of preexisting words.
Somehow we have to design a system founded on the concession that there are no new ideas, only new knowledge of idea combinations. And we need to get better at rewarding the artists that bring these combinations to market, not court.