Patently Insane, Part 1: An Introduction

By August 9, 2011

Two weeks ago, Public Radio International’s popular program “This American Life” did an episode on the confounding, and often shady world of intellectual property law. And it was a very good program, by the way. TAL’s companion program, a business and economics program, “Planet Money” did an IP show the same week. For the past several months, talk of patents, software patents in particular, and intellectual property in general have been “trending topics” on Hacker News and within the entrepreneurial and corporate blogging and news sharing communities.

Whether you know it or not, patents on scientific discoveries and technological innovation affect your life in all kinds of tiny and insidious ways. They make you pay more for your hardware and software, influence research and development cycles of the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, and, most importantly, they squelch creativity and slow progress, or so dozens and dozens of blog posts, podcasts, comments, and tweeted inveighs would like to convince you.

But, before I continue on this adventure through the morass of IP, I’m obligated to make a disclosure. I am the co-founder of a (tiny, unfunded, and let me emphasize, tiny) tech startup. My personal opinion on intellectual property is this: patents, especially on software, are Kafka-esque. If a company does not participate in this absurd system, it is itself absurd, will not be funded, and is doomed to fail. Contentious objectors are shot in the back if they turn away from the IP game and I find this depressing. However, I’ve resigned myself to the fate of being sued by everyone and their little brother, because this is now just the way of things.

We all know about the patent system, and we’ve heard news stories for years about one company suing another for intellectual property infringement. This is not new. But, people have become more aware of the patent and intellectual property system in recent months. This lead to the aforementioned emphatic blog posts and tweets, and while these continue, I detect an apathetic malaise beginning to tamp down the vitriol. Blogging, tweeting and raising consciousness is tiring. We all know what a patent troll is now. But, hope springs eternal: the US House of Representatives passed the America Invents Act to the Senate. HR 1249 promises patent reform. Upon closer examination however, one realizes that to call the bill reformatory is, to be frank, patently insane.


Part 2 of’s three-part editorial series on patents and intellectual property will come to you fresh tomorrow, Wednesday, August 10th. I’ll explain why we’re talking so much about patents and IP, as of late. Stay tuned for Part 3, in which I’ll examine the anatomy of a patent troll and the government’s new proposed legislation.