Patents are supposed to spur innovation, but they are mainly useful to big companies that can afford patent battles.
Apple and Creative Technology are at it again. The two companies have been trading patent-infringement suits, and Apple upped the ante last week with a second countersuit against Creative.
Problems with patents are nothing new in the high-tech industry. In addition to the public problems—infringement suits, patent challenges, and so on—there is a long history of companies using patents to get their way at the negotiating table.
All of this would be fine except that the US patent system is broken. Among other problems, it's far too easy to get a rotten patent, and far too hard to challenge an existing one. As a result, the patent system gives a strong advantage to big corporations who can afford to fight over a patent.
Most patents are issued in the US, but the rest of the world is hardly free from patent problems. China, for example, has a well-deserved reputation for being weak on intellectual property issues. It's the reverse of the situation in the US: the Chinese system actually puts big multinationals at a disadvantage.
In my opinion, none of this will be solved until major technology companies start taking a stand. Yes, many companies gripe about IP problems in China. And yes, there are groups fighting against bogus patents. But I don't know of any leaders who are attacking both problems. Have I overlooked them? If so, go to the forum to let me know who they are.