Patents from a developer's point of view

Hey everyone!

Ok so everyone's talking about patents. I haven't heard much from people who actually develop these solutions that eventually get patented, so I thought I'd put my two cents in.

Part of my job is as a user experience guy in a large consumer tech company. As new hardware comes through the pipe, it's our job to figure out how to make something new and cool with it... something that is intuitive and gets people excited. In addition, we're lucky enough to get to share our findings with other sister companies every year or so.

When we go to these meet-ups, something really surprising happens : when we share our findings, we discover time and time again that nearly every single company identifies the exact same problems, and comes up with nearly the exact same solution to that problem, even though we've had no contact with each other.


It's sort of like if you asked someone to find the best path through a forest. Chances are, you'd see a dominant path show up where most people decided "yeah of course walking by the river makes sense" or "I'm going to walk the lowest, flattest point between those mountains". Of course, right?

Now what if you then told each new person that they cannot walk on any part of the forest that has previously been walked on? After a while, you get to a point where it's almost impossible to walk through the forest unless you take a really stupid and dangerous route. And to me, that's the core the problem with patents in high-technology fields: in most cases, the patent holder is simply the first person to get there and declare the most obvious solution; a solution that a thousand other people would have come to if the problem were presented to them at the same time.

I know what you're thinking: "but if a guy puts in all of the research money to get there, other guy shouldn't just get to steal it!". I understand that point of view, but here's the thing: as a large company, being first to market is such a huge advantage by itself, that it's incentive enough to out-innovate your competition. If often doesn't matter if the other guy copies you... if you're first, then you get the lions share of the market. Now if another company improves on your idea, or figures out how to sell a similar device or service for a greater value, then it's your own damned fault if you lose that market, because you had the advantage already.

Patents have their place, but in my opinion they're ill fitted to the tech industry, where today's cutting edge is obsolete within 2 years. Shouldn't that be a pressure we place on innovative companies to keep innovating, keep executing well or else? It certainly how my industry works, and from my perspective at least, we're all the better for it.

I await your reasoned arguments, incoherent fanboy rants and snarky gifs.