Patent laws have a place

There are all kinds of things that I think are stupid about US patent laws, but the core idea, in my opinion, is that patents give a company company a short term monopoly on a product or concept. I don’t think this is inherently a bad idea. This gives inventors an incentive to invest in original ideas, rather than simply commoditize existing products. The risk of initial investment maybe offset by the reward of a short term monopoly on the idea.

That said, capitalism would certainly function just fine without any patent laws, but I do think that done right it can offer an enhancement to the system.

On news that a court issued an injunction against Samsung selling blatant copies of Apple’s iPad, Matt Yglesias strongly disagrees,

The great thing for the world about the iPad is precisely that it clearly was vulnerable to copying and from day one it seemed like there was a chance that Apple’s runaway success would be eroded by copycat Android products. That’s why to stay on top of the game Apple’s had to release two new, successfully better iterations of the iPad while bringing prices down. Similarly, Apple’s MacBook Air products have been imitated by Windows Ultrabooks and now thanks to the power of competition Airs are better than ever and they made the new Retina MacBook Pro. In a free market to succeed you can’t just innovate, you have to successively innovate to constantly succeed. The alternative model in which you innovate once and then sue everyone to protect your lead is nice for lawyers, but terrible for consumers and the world. 

But here’s the thing: we all know damn well that mega-corportation Apple is going to survive ripoffs of their products by continued innovation and therefore we have somewhere between zero and epsilon amount of compassion for them. They have deep pockets and therefore don’t need the advantage of a short-term monopoly on iPad concept in order to keep the company afloat and continue to invest.

But is that true of smaller startup companies? I think this is where there’s value in patent laws. If the same thing had happen to Joe-Blow Electronics, would the patent laws seem really as absurd? Should Joe-Blow Electronics get at least a year, maybe two, on selling their innovative new iPad product before Apple rips it off with shameless copy?