Apple and Google spend more money on patents than on research and development

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J.G. Vibes

Activist Post

This week the New York Times reported that spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and high dollar patent purchases exceeded spending on research and development of new products. As many are aware, a patent is an exclusive monopoly privilege over an idea, which prevents new upstarts and entrepreneurs from replicating or expanding on already existing ideas. The case against patents and intellectual property of any kind is very strong, and growing in support especially among younger people.

One of the most obvious and compelling points brought forward by opponents of intellectual property is the fact that these monopoly privileges are a disadvantage to the economy and society as a whole because it stifles innovation and guarantees that prices will remain high.

The negative impact on innovation is primarily the result of an artificially high barrier to entry for new inventors and entrepreneurs. However, when seeing how much research and development money is getting thrown away in court and on patent filings, it becomes apparent that there is an array of contributing factors that all lead in the same direction, stagnation. If these companies are spending more money “protecting” old ideas, than they are on creating new ones it seems obvious that this would further halt technological progression and keep prices high for customers.

Many of the top executives at these companies are patent trolls, and full supporters of the intellectual property racket, however, this worldview isn’t shared by everyone in the industry, it isn’t even shared by everyone at these two companies. 

Last month at the Technology Policy Institute’s conference, Pablo Chavez, Google’s public policy director said:

“One thing that we are very seriously taking a look at is the question of software patents, and whether in fact the patent system as it currently exists is the right system to incent innovation and really promote consumer-friendly policies”

Even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak believes that the patent system stifles innovation, and he actually predicted that the initial ruling in California would not be the final word in the case Just a few weeks ago he told Bloomberg that:

“I don’t think the decision of California will hold. And I don’t agree with it — very small things I don’t really call that innovative. I wish everybody would just agree to exchange all the patents and everybody can build the best forms they want to use everybody’s technologies.”

Mainstream media and academia presents intellectual property as a market necessity, but that hasn’t prevented the resistance against these monopoly privileges from growing. Recently, the most cited Judge in the country, Richard A Prosner has even wrote about the need to reform the patent system, although many don’t think that his suggestions go far enough. To be fair though, Prosner admitted that he did not know enough about intellectual property or the patent system to be able to give a full working solution to the problem. 

Rick Falkvinge, the founder of Sweden’s pirate party knows his way around the subject a bit better, and calls for a full scale abolition of patents and intellectual property. In fact, just this week he wrote a column for torrentfreak explaining why copyrights are not needed to make money or incentivize people to create. According to him:

The ‘copyright industry’ is deliberately measured in a thoroughly deceptive way that borders on ridicule. According to WIPO’s guidelines as to what should be included when calculating the size of the ‘copyright industry’, we find everything from paper pulp manufacturing, to kitchen appliance retail sales, to shoemaking (WIPO 2003, via Pettersson’s paper above). If you include practically every part of the economy in group X, and then claim that group X is a vital part of the economy, then it’s going to look like you’re right. Just don’t get caught looking silly when it turns out how you selected that X, and that there’s no correlation at all with what you’re really talking about – the industries benefiting from the copyright monopoly, which are about one-tenth the size of those being held back by it. Want to create jobs? Kill the monopoly.

With ideas like that, it should come as no surprise that the World Intellectual Property Organization has blocked Rick Falkvinge and the pirate party from becoming observer members in the (WIPO) organization, which would give their message more credibility in mainstream circles. 

Regardless of how desperately the powers that be cling to this old way of doing business, these ideas will continue to fall out of favor as their true nature is revealed to more and more people. This particular instance of companies spending more money on patents than on research and development just happens to be the most recent and ironic step in this process.

J.G. Vibes is the author of an 87 chapter counter culture textbook called Alchemy of the Modern Renaissance and host of a show called Voluntary Hippie Radio. He is also an artist with an established record label and event promotion company that hosts politically charged electronic dance music events. You can keep up with his work, which includes free podcasts, free e-books & free audiobooks at his website

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