How to resist the dark side...of the patent system

Image by Chris Trevas

A long time ago in a galaxy (not so) far, far away...the patent system was created. Its intended purpose—to foster innovation.

The thinking: Inventors would invent solutions to specific problems. We'd encourage those inventors to disclose the details of their inventions. In exchange, we'd grant them rights to exclude others from practicing those inventions for a limited amount of time, thereby rewarding the inventors for their contributions and spurring others to invent new and improved ways of handling the same problems.

Necessity would breed invention. Disclosed-yet-protected invention would breed more invention.

Hmmm. Sounds wonderful, it does.

Yet all is not well. For centuries, two opposing sides of the patent system have clashed: The light. And the dark.

While those of the light strive to foster innovation for the common good, those of the dark side mean only to stifle it for personal gain.

It takes strength to resist the dark side. Only the weak embrace it!

—Obi-Wan Kenobi

This, Padawans, is a step-by-step guide to resisting the dark side. Herein lies the distilled wisdom of an ancient Order devoted to preserving the light side of the patent system, the only worthy path to true innovation. Study it carefully. Ignore it at your peril!

Step 1: Invent something new.

Seems obvious. But the dark side is teeming with those who have schemed to make the old "new" again as an expedient path to power. A popular version of this dark art is to take a common manual process and then throw in a computer. If the only "invention" is "doing it on a computer," well, that's not much of an invention at all.

To walk the path of true innovation, one must take the first step of truly novel invention. Anything else is a step toward the dark side.

Step 2: Be specific about it.

The darkest of the dark arts is generality. The most powerful of the dark side have mastered it well, writing such overly broad claims that you'd think you infringed the patent just by reading it.

The path of true innovation is narrow. Navigating it requires specific directions. Without them, one is lost to the dark side.

Step 3: Make sure it's non-obvious.

It takes vision to see the non-obvious. Those of the dark side, clouded by desires of power and grandeur, see only the obvious and the common, yet seek to control it as their own “invention.” If everyone would invent the same solution to a problem, how innovative could the invention really be?

The path of true innovation is a non-obvious one, hidden to all but those worthy few who can see it. The obvious path, though easy to find, is but the path one takes to the dark side.

Step 4: Keep it to what's useful.

Lastly, any invention should, of course, be useful and beneficial to society. Only those hidden in the darkest shadows of the dark side would ever endeavor to patent things no one can—or should—use.

The path of true innovation arrives at the common good and well-being of all. The path of the dark side is a lonely one that ends in cold obsolescence.

The allure of the patent system's dark side is strong. Monopolistic power awaits all those willing to embrace it. But don't be fooled. All that power comes at a greater cost, one of constant fear and darkness.

Follow this guide and find yourself in the light, awash in the glow and warmth of true innovation.

We'll see you there. Until then, may the fourth be with you.

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