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On Software Patents

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I feel that I may have invented/discovered something novel which nobody else has discovered/invented yet. It pertains to VR and the field is fresh. I believe that it's pretty significant and I want to share it with the world. However, I am really worried about patents. The worst thing that could happen is someone sees what I came up with, discovers it is unpatented, submits and receives a patent for my invention, and then blocks everyone else from using it, including myself. They would have an exclusive right to this invention for a minimum of 20 years. Then the patent trolls would sue anyone who replicates the invention. It would do nothing but stifle innovation.

Innovation is like stacking blocks. Someone has to place the first block, then the next person stands on the placed block and places their block one increment higher, and it repeats infinitely. I step on the shoulders of engineers who came before me to raise the ceiling of progress. Those who come after me will stand on my shoulders and push the boundaries even higher. A litigious patent troll would effectively stop the pace of progress for 20+ years.

So, my thought is this: I need to start looking at my IP for unique and original patents, and then patent them. The reason to patent is not to exclude anyone from using my invention, but to safeguard the invention from being excluded from the world by litigious patent trolls. After I have secured the patent, I would be more than happy to share the implementation details with the rest of the world and give full blanket license to make use of it for any purpose whatsoever. I would probably have to make sure there is a grandfather clause so that if my company gets bought out, people don't lose their right to use and access the owned patent from the purchasing company.

Anyways, the next step is to probably start talking to a patent lawyer to look at the merit of what I've come up with and start pushing paperwork.

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IANAL but you cannot patent something that is already in the public domain. So if you really want to safeguard against patent trolls then you can just describe it in detail and stick it up on Github with a suitable license & upload date (or anywhere available and visible to the public at large). Now anybody can benefit from your idea and nobody can claim a patent to it (including yourself!).

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Technically you can't patent prior art, public domain or not, as long as it's documented. Unfortunately the USPTO rubber-stamps a lot of new patents it shouldn't, to create jobs for lawyers I guess. IMHO we ought to scrap the whole thing, software and otherwise. I've known a few people who had patents, typically one, and they'd never do it again. It was expensive, time consuming, and futile. For example, one company patents a connector.. so their competitors use slightly different connectors... now you have several non-interchangeable parts where you should have an ANSI standard connector. It's bullshit.

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yeah if you stick it in the public domain they can't patent it (patent office might accept their patent, but with evidence that it was in the public domain prior to the patent being filed, no lawsuit would hold). A more worrying concern is that your idea might not be "novel", just unused - the most common case of patent trolling is companies that exist only to patent ideas with no intention of implementation or use, just to sue people who independently develop and use the patented idea. They literally think of something, patent it, and tadah! They get to sue anybody who comes up with the idea to do that themselves and actually does so.

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I think it is great that you have the foresight to think of others in this "new" area.

Thank you.

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If you want to put it out there for everyone to use, opensource it. A patent is intended to allow someone to publish a novel invention without loosing the opportunity to profit from it. This is in contrast to a trade secret. It does not sound like that is what you want to do.

 

Talking with a lawyer is a good idea. Understand the options. It sounds like you own the business. Many small companies with IP with patent because it provides legal protection. It is also an asset that makes the company more valuable. It can be used as a bargaining chip during negotiations. I am sure that there are many other legal reasons why patenting something is desirable so best to get an expert opinion.

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If you want to put it out there for everyone to use, opensource it. A patent is intended to allow someone to publish a novel invention without loosing the opportunity to profit from it. This is in contrast to a trade secret. It does not sound like that is what you want to do.

 

Talking with a lawyer is a good idea. Understand the options. It sounds like you own the business. Many small companies with IP with patent because it provides legal protection. It is also an asset that makes the company more valuable. It can be used as a bargaining chip during negotiations. I am sure that there are many other legal reasons why patenting something is desirable so best to get an expert opinion.

Yeah, my goal is to put it out there publicly and let it be free for everyone to use and adapt, for any purpose. The nightmare scenario is a patent troll seeing the technique, submitting a patent and receiving it because the patent office didn't do their due diligence to see if its public knowledge, and then those trolls would come after everyone who used the technique. The patent system is broken and stifles innovation rather than encouraging it.

I realize that owning the patent would make my company more valuable, but I think most of that value would come in an acquisition deal, and if I were to patent my invention to keep it from patent trolls yet give it away royalty free, I can't guarantee that an acquiring company would have the same ethos, particularly if they're acquiring us for our patent portfolio. Although I'm near broke, I'd rather be broke and make contributions which helps the industry grow than to be rich and stifling the industry growth. I would personally benefit by being able to experience the great creations partially inspired by my work, and I think that would be more valuable than material wealth. 

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