What’s the point of a patent?

The Engineer has always found people difficult. Sitting with his Saturday morning cup of tea reflecting on the week, this has never been more true.

But this week is a bit different. You might know from the Engineer’s other blogs that his usual frustration is with his colleagues and the processes of his own company.

Not this week. This week The Engineer is angry with the Chinese.

Over the years the Engineer has literally poured blood, sweat and, yes, sometimes tears into his work to create innovative, unique new technologies. Technologies that have been awarded patent protection.

And what happens? You guessed it – Chinese competitors are selling copies of it. Not figurative copies, exact copies. Not just in China either, in our own backyard right under our noses.

Some may say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Bollocks. It is the most severe insult. They have stolen not only your success but all the years of work and research that have gone into it.

Why copy? The Engineer can see the attraction – its cheap and is the fastest way of providing a competitive offering in an already established marked. It’s also becoming easier with modern technology allowing precise scanning and replication of parts, and tools able to de-obfuscate software code.

But in this case the Engineer is pissed off because the product copied is extremely complex. It would have taken almost as much time to reverse engineer as to develop from scratch. So why copy it? Why not earn the knowledge independently and legitimately for yourself? Pure laziness, taking the path of least resistance. That’s all the Engineer can think of.

The final insult? They cannot be stopped. Even though protected by patent worldwide, prosecuting is simply too expensive. Not just financially, but in time better spend maintaining an innovative step ahead of these people.

To the majority of business, which are small and lacking the resources of a megacorp like Apple or Mircosoft, just what is the point of a patent?

The process of applying for one is painful. The examiner testing the validity of claims is not always qualified to understand meaning many patents that should be granted are not, and other which shouldn’t are.

And worst of all, to demonstrate the unique inventive step you have to include enough detail in the published document that you are telling your competitors that a) you have invented something of note and they are behind; b) the direction of your development activity and c) enough detail in many cases to get 90% of the way to replicating it for themselves.

So, you’re telling somebody else about your technology with little ability to execute the patent against infringers. What is the bloody point?

The Engineer’s company is therefore taking a different approach in future. Secrecy. Development details are kept need to know, products are deliberately developed to include barriers to reverse engineering and cryptographic techniques used to prevent third party fake software. Details will always get out but in not seeking patents one very public avenue is cut off.

All of this buys time, the real way to beat these people is to keep one step ahead. Ensure anything they reverse engineer and sell is a generation out of date.

For most the patent system is broken. Its time for a change.

TAE

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