Without patents, almost nobody would do R & D work. This applies just as much to software as it does to anyone else. If a software company spends two years and several million dollars developing new algorithms, they should be allowed to protect that investment, otherwise anyone who can disassemble code can duplicate it at almost no cost.
Thats the argument trotted out by corporate software houses (who have huge sunken costs in maintaining this harmful status quo), but it's demonstrably false.
Patents in the video game industry are very rare, with the usual reaction to them being 'outrage', rather than 'pride' as in business programming's endless frivolous patents (yes, if you start attacking game developers with patents, expect the public to hate on you strongly).
Despite the fact that we avoid patenting our work, we still do tonnes of new R&D. Not only are we constantly researching and innovating the technology that we use, we also go out of our way to freely share our discoveries at conferences such as GDC, unemcumbered by patents!
What we don't do is share our implementations of these ideas - at least not entirely - we do often share small portions of the implementations to help spread the idea.
Apparently our industry should be technologically stagnating, due to there being "no incentive" to research and develop new tech... But the total opposite is true! The state of the art in video game technology is advancing rediculously rapidly and cooperatively between competing studios
. The incentive is in being on the bleeding edge of tech, as the imitatiors are always playing catch-up and using 2nd rate tech anyway.
The advantage is that R&D becomes cheaper for everyone, so we can actually do more of it! Instead of having internal retreats with the legal team to craft, break, find the loopholes in, and re-craft patents for our work, we instead do nothing, or upload our PowerPoint slides to the world. Instead of reading the patents of others and spending days planning how to circumvent them (while also reverse engineering their ideas), we instead attend conferences or download PPTs. Instead of paying huge licensing costs, we just deal with being a few years behind the curve as we roll our own implementations. In the process, maybe we either almost catch up, or maybe we push the idea further and provide a positive contribution back to the original author and everyone else who's interested. We benefit through having cheaper R&D costs - we can focus on one area to push forward, while cheapl playing catch up in other areas. Startups benefit by actually being able to enter the industry withou requiring millions up front in "protection money". The industry benefits from that by the supply of jobs being more stable, which results in the supply of talent being higher, which means we can continue to make quality products. The consumer benefits from every game being of higher quality due to the huge amount of industry-wide R&D that results in the technological bar bein raised year after year.
I know this might be tantamount to communism or treason or something, but I'll be damned if it aint working for us!