Patent Reform

The Future Party has had extended internal discussion about the need for patent reform and what such reform would entail. Below is a summary of our beliefs regarding patents at the moment, which focuses on software patents, a highly contentious form of patent.

  • We believe that innovation would still occur if we were to remove the patent system. The rate of development under a system without patents is debatable.
  • Software patents are mathematics patents. If we follow the rules of patenting strictly, patents such as these probably shouldn’t exist.
  • We believe patents (especially software patents) are granted too easily. If an expert in the field is able to reproduce the results without having looked at the code, then the patent should never have been granted to begin with.
  • A software patent which is a computerised version of an obvious physical process should not be granted.
  • Software patents are written too broadly. You should only be able to patent specific solutions, not general functions. You should only be able to patent a lawn mower, not mowing the lawn.
  • Patents, as they currently stand, award monopoly power. Members of the Future Party are generally against monopoly powers because they can be (and have been) exploited. There may be scope for an alternate royalty based system.
  • Finally, the majority of patents filed in the software industry today are mainly defensive patents to avoid nefarious litigation. This shows the system as stands is broken, that too many questionable patents have a strong legal standing and there is scope for change.

Please leave your thoughts below about how you think we can improve the patent system to ensure that innovation is supported effectively.


Showing 23 reactions

  • commented 2014-08-02 15:49:08 +1000
    David Rose October 14, 2013 at 1:26 am

    There is a lot that is wrong about the very basis of the current patent and copyright system. The U.S. model (which many others follow) seems to have arisen just from a few lines in their constitution. And since then very elaborate legal structures and interests have built up around the way too simple mechanism, with its original goal long forgotten.
    Indeed, pharmaceutical companies put in a lot of resources in developing new drugs, and they should make the business model viable. But then, a lot of resources are also wasted around navigating the patent system.
    What if we could reconnect with that original aspiration, that is, to encourage investement in R&D, creativity, innovation, and to improve productivity in both market and social goods? Can we design a more sophisticated system that serves these goals?
    Giving the creator (then later a not-even-relevant owner-through-purchase) a time-defined iron-clad right which excludes all other use (which may benefit society), and thinking this is the ultimate model for promoting creativity, is just too crude and plain mad.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:48:43 +1000
    Dale August 31, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    A Use it or lose it mechanism to disqualify patents that are taken with the intention of withholding a technology ie Lithium batteries and the original electric car; Also designs for more efficient wind turbines that have never seen the light of day.

    We also need to offer successful inventors/Innovators roles advising gov policy within a formal and permanent organisation (yes another gov department)

    Perhaps we could even make certain patents free domain nationally to massively encourage investment and jobs in this country.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:48:16 +1000
    Travis Kirke May 17, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    I think the big thing for patents is that a one-size-fits-all system really doesn’t work.
    The two big sides of this debate at the moment are software patents vs drug patents. The pharmaceutical companies (rightly) claim that they need patent protection due to the complexities of their industry.
    Many software companies or developers are opposed to patents on a number of grounds, whether that is complete ineligibility, obviousness or protection of the industry.

    Software is rightfully protected by copyright – which would prevent the ‘just copy someone else’s code’ fears. And the booming open source industry is showing that you can make money even if you give away your source code for free. Patents are far more restrictive than copyrights but also have a far broader scope, often covering entire abstract ideas which should never happen.
    Software is also protected by a huge first mover advantage – see the continued market dominance of the iPad even when better options are available.

    Rather than abolishing patents entirely, a much better solution would be a variable system of patents (2/5/10/20 years depending on industry). Alternatives which have been suggested are exponentially increasing renewal fees (to prevent trolls from accumulating hundreds of bogus patents and sitting on them for 20 years), and the often-suggested treatment of software as mathematics and thus making it ineligible for patent protection. Compulsory licensing doesn’t seem to be a workable solution. The potential licensor can name a ridiculously high price or the licensee can refuse reasonable low prices and claim the other party isn’t living up to their side of the bargain – see the issues going on with FRAND patents around the world in the tech arena.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:47:50 +1000
    jamesjansson May 7, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Hi Jay

    You’ll note that this is a discussion piece. Namely, we believe that there are both positives and negatives to the current patent system. When we say “This shows the system as stands is broken, that too many questionable patents have a strong legal standing and there is scope for change” we mean just this. When we say “We believe that innovation would still occur if we were to remove the patent system. The rate of development under a system without patents is debatable.” we are indicating that technological advancement WILL still occur, but it may occur slower in some cases and faster in others. This discussion piece is not us saying that we should abolish patents.

    I think that your examples of communist Russia don’t really apply. The reasons that that system failed had a lot more to do with the rest of the economy, not the patents.

    My opinion is that we need to consider how easily we give out patents, and whether the system by which we resolve patent disputes actually increases innovation, or just increases lawyer fees. You’ve come up with some good ideas which will be worth refining (we have also been talking privately about systems that would require licensing). Essentially we have the same idea: monopoly power is problematic, and it would be good if there were a “fair price” system. Such a system would be hard to establish, but would certainly be worth trying.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:47:21 +1000
    Jay May 7, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Interesting party you’ve created James and it’s modus operandi too. regarding patent reform though I think rather than abolish it why not fix it instead? As with the analogy of the lawn mower, do we toss it out just because it ran out of fuel?

    These idealogical/radical approaches like that of the Zeitgeist party would probably scare a lot of potential members— everyday Aussie families who worry about keeping food on the table and a roof over their head.

    Personally I’m a conservative thinker and believe as the Future Party does that we do indeed need to innovate and lead like that of the US, Japan, South Korea, Germany, etc and export our technology globally as these countries do.

    Removing the patent system won’t do this because there would be no job security for industry to protect it’s intellectual property. With no patent system in place private enterprise wouldn’t invest in innovation because there would be no investment security, no ROI as anyone could make the product as it wouldn’t be protected.

    This forces government to be the only source of funding for innovation as it has nothing to lose but tax payers money, granted that at least something would be produced. If I recall there was a CCCP movement in Eurasia back in the 20th century that tried this where government was the only provider of capitol and product manufacturer of technology.

    If you where ‘lucky’ you got a washing machine in 6 years and if you where even more fortunate you got a Trabant automobile a decade or so later.

    What’s really needed is reform to IP laws not abolishment to the status-quo. For one I’d be considering enforcing ‘cookie-cutter’ IP licensing agreements at fixed rates with the proviso that patents are only granted if licensing and manufacturing are to follow within a time period there after.

    For example one of the cookie-cutter licensing agreements enforced would be a free or low cost academic license (non manufacturing IP licence) granted to private and public research and non profit organisations to innovate upon and improve— this would be of great benefit to the medical sector and would expedite progress too.

    Another licensing agreement would be an ‘open manufacturing licence’ that would allow any manufacturer even a competitor to the IP holder to ask for and be granted a licence to produce within reason and market area hardware and/or software without the monopoly of the IP holder, fine tuning of course to ensure financial parity and equal opportunity between all entities involved.

    Just an example of a more conservative thinking approach that doesn’t ‘rock the economic boat’ to much where everyone would be a winner.

    My 2¢ worth~!!
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:46:52 +1000
    anonymous May 2, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Relaxing the patent laws is a good idea.
    Nuclear? baaaaad idea.
    Let’s talk about FREE energy!
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:46:25 +1000
    Jonathon Harris April 28, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Well said Kurt. I like the idea of the reform being around the licensing/reuse of the patented technology to secure innovators returns and allow more freedom of use.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:46:08 +1000
    Wayne Albry May 22, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Practically every line of code I write transgresses a patent, as they are so broad as to be nonsensical. If a person labours for years why would they release their source code? If they haven’t and another company manages to emulate it in a few months then maybe it wasn’t that good to start with? If it is it will take the new competitor more than a few months in which time the first mover should have manged to garner an unassailable market position, unless of course their marketing is rubbish – but this is another issue.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:45:49 +1000
    Kurt April 24, 2013 at 12:28 am

    Patents are designed to protect someone’s investment, of time and work. Now imagine a software programmer, programming away for days, weeks, months even years without a single bit of revenue, then one day his software is a success he has finally completed is software masterpiece, a few months later a new company who has downloaded his source code, and reuploaded it with new pictures is now in the market taking away market share. Now i can see how patents don’t really apply as many overseas countries with less regulations will simply just copy exactly or steal the code….but is the programmer protecting the code or the idea, Its a tricky topic, but now think the large software development company that wants to invest millions in creating a software package that runs specific hardware, if the patent exists for software for specific hardware, then companies can not steal or resell this code to the hardware producers. My point is here that patents are still an important system that encourage growth while at the same time as destroying it. For example when drug companies come up with a new drug formula they patent it, displaying to the world their exact chemical formation to produce this product, however this patent stops any large company from having the right to sell it, but only for a short period of time, enough time for the company to make its profits back from its investment into the research of the drug, (i think its roughly about 10 years ) after those 10 years the license expires and everyone else can use their formula to make their own generic brand, thats right the generic brand is the identical formula sold by a cheaper company. Now lets compare this to the space and technology sector, by patenting their new advances in technology they are basically telling all the other privately and state owned space agencies their secrets which could ultimately mean they could lose in the space race and they lose their multi billion dollar investment. What this indicates to me is that the patent system isn’t where it should be in today’s society. With the speed of advancing technology being stuck on patent technicalities is causing the slow down of the human race. However at the same time we need a system that encourage cooperation while protecting investors and inventors. Maybe it could be something as simple as lowering the time for active patents to work with the speed with technology advances, perhaps we could reduce the cost of using another companies patents (if after a period of time the licensing price of using a patent decreases until the life period of the contract ends (1-5) years. These are some of the things to think about, but really i could go on and on.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:45:25 +1000
    DanJoyce April 16, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    Software products are tools. Spades are tools. If you cannot own the right to make all spades, you should not own the right to make all of the same type of software product.

    I would suggest in addition to the ideas on patents put forward already that there should be additional monetary incentives given to innovative people and companies who create new and useful products. This might be in the form of grants or prizes, distributed by a body of experts. This could help provide an alternative solution to the problem of encouraging innovators that patenting was originally created to solve.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:45:05 +1000
    Matthew Guy Nielsen April 10, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Patents were created to try to insure that inventors and discoverers had the initial opportunity for monetary gain. This is a good thing.

    The big problem with patents, IP, and copyright is that they were designed with the best interests of individuals and small teams in mind, in an earlier era of discovery.

    Scientific discoveries and new ideas are becoming increasingly granular, smaller leaps, tweaks, refinements. The fields being studied (software, biology) are based on materials and concepts that belong to all (mathematics, genetics, chemistry, physics). The entities making these discoveries are generally large corporations, with large development teams, churning out these little discoveries at a fairly fast pace.

    Our current system is not designed for any of this. Patent law, IP law, and copyright law all need to be completely overhauled to reflect technological advances of the past 100 years.

    Fair use needs to be enshrined in the law, and reasonable limits need to be placed on the length of protections provided by these laws. Considerations of historic, scientific and social impact need to be taken into account when considering who ‘owns’ something, and for how long.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:44:39 +1000
    Scott H April 9, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I think that relaxing patent laws and regulations are important. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest that jumps out at me is China.

    Currently China (and many companies within) are using strict patent laws to their advantage. There are many examples of this, including a small company in China being awarded the right to sell a product that infringed on one of Apple’s many patents. The Apple product in question was not allowed to be sold in China.

    Many would argue that this is fair enough; many of Apple’s patents shouldn’t exist. However, the real problem is in scientific research.

    Space X, a company that I’m sure many of you are aware of, are ignoring the patent process altogether. Their reason? China will just use it like an instruction booklet for their own use.

    Interestingly, they get really shitty when a company/country invokes on a Chinese owned patent. And by tightening a countries patent laws, it just gives China more or a free reign.

    An example of a specific technology being developed is LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor). China has is using and adapting American designs and research, and long story short, are going for IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) (can be thought of as a form of patent) invoking that other countries/companies will not be able to use (at least) their variant of the technology, at least not without some form of penalty.

    I know that what I have gone on about here is not software patent related, but it supports the idea of a patent reform. Something that I believe is long overdue.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:44:11 +1000
    Niall Taylor April 9, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I understand the principle of having a patent, but i don’t know the details of how they are all used. To me it seems that for some reason if I invent a tangible thing I’m able to protect it and stop others from using or developing it further. On the other hand, if I ‘invent’ an idea, it would seem absurd to stop others from using it or developing it further, but we are still able to protect our ideas. Could there be a way to use the same concept of protecting ideas, (appropriate credit given otherwise its plagiarism), to tangible inventions. So say if I discover a new cancer gene, other people should be more than welcome to use it, do research, and develop a vaccine or whatever, as long as ‘appropriate credit’ is given back to me. I shouldn’t be able to restrict who does what with it based on my own demands. The same with software, if someone can change, tweak or refine a program then they should as long as ‘appropriate credit’ is given. This idea that the use of coding of a particular program be restricted is stupid, its just restricting a bunch of equations. The question then is what ‘appropriate credit’ details. Is it a reference with a portion of any profit given as a royalty? I don’t know, but to be told a certain public university couldn’t do breast cancer research because another institution (not sure what type) had exclusive rights to a particular gene thanks to a patent is disgusting.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:43:40 +1000
    jamesjansson April 17, 2013 at 12:26 am

    Sorry for leaving this hanging Ben! Slipped out of my inbox.

    “We believe that innovation would still occur if we were to remove the patent system.” What is this belief based upon? Innovation needs investment which requires surety of return.

    No it doesn’t. People will still want new things. They will pay for it. It’s just corporations will be a LOT more secretive.

    ” If the patent period is reduced to (say) 5 years then these defensive patents will expire, and the IP becomes open source. Existing patent terms can be reduced on a simple ratio of 5 : 20years”

    As much as reducing current granted patents to 5 years would solve some things, there is also a general principle in government of grandfathering old time limited set ups. Mainly to allow confidence in the government that at least the promises for the present will hold. Ripping up old patents would ruin business confidence in government confidence in other areas. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be done at all, just that there will be an impact in government confidence and that needs to be taken into account.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:43:02 +1000
    Ben Heslop April 5, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Allow me to state initially that I LOVE the idea behind this party, and think its high time it has arisen. Well done to you all!!!

    “We believe that innovation would still occur if we were to remove the patent system.” What is this belief based upon? Innovation needs investment which requires surety of return.

    “The rate of development under a system without patents is debatable.” Most definitely, and as I try to set out in the attached article the reason is that patents are too powerful and the system too expensive, making the balance shifted in the favour of large companies (and indeed nations, like China) that can use patents to prevent innovation.

    “Software patents are written too broadly. You should only be able to patent specific solutions, not general functions. You should only be able to patent a lawn mower, not mowing the lawn.” I agree with this point, if not the earlier assertions.

    “Members of the Future Party are generally against monopoly powers because they can be (and have been) exploited.” Any power can be exploited, but I agree that 20 years is too lucrative a monopoly period given the rate of innovation in the modern world.

    “Finally, the majority of patents filed in the software industry today are mainly defensive patents to avoid nefarious litigation.” If the patent period is reduced to (say) 5 years then these defensive patents will expire, and the IP becomes open source. Existing patent terms can be reduced on a simple ratio of 5 : 20years.

    I look forward to your thoughts.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:42:34 +1000
    benheslop April 5, 2013 at 9:42 am

    OK will do. Sorry working last night.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:42:12 +1000
    jamesjansson April 5, 2013 at 12:41 am

    Ben I’d like you to comment on this policy too otherwise I’ll remove this as blog spam.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:41:51 +1000
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:41:33 +1000
    benheslop May 6, 2013 at 10:38 am

    No Steven, the 5 years begins AFTER (note the capitalisation) the approval has been granted. The patent can be applied for and granted upon discovery (and even kept confidential until the term proper starts).
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:41:14 +1000
    Steven Thompson May 5, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    And what would apply before and during the clinical trial? It often takes years from idea to get to the clinical trials stage. The only alternative I can think of would be for medical research to be completely secretive – which will stifle innovation and have the exact opposite effect to which you intend.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:39:49 +1000
    Ben Heslop April 5, 2013 at 10:57 am

    5 year patents could also apply to medical discoveries, but with the period beginning AFTER clinical trials have been undertaken and approvals granted.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:39:22 +1000
    jamesjansson April 2, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Good point Elizabeth. If we are to keep a patent system for drug development, we need to consider what is actually a new invention. So, for example, when a new compound is developed and tested there are grounds for awarding a patent. However, if a drug company takes 2 existing drugs that are commonly used together, and they create a single tablet including both, we need to question whether that is a real invention worthy of a new patent or of an extension of existing patents.

    James Jansson, Leader
    • Disclaimer: The above is a personal opinion and does not constitute formal Future Party policy.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:38:47 +1000
    Elizabeth Collins April 2, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    There is also a lot that our government could do to improve patenting laws which apply to medical research and the production of affordable generic treatments.