The new enemies of patent reform? You

A BusinessWeek article finds for the plaintiff, suggesting that patent reform may not help "the little guy." But the truth is actually the inverse.

BusinessWeek has an interesting, frightening article on patent reform. Frightening because it's the BigCos who are advocating reform and, apparently, it's the VCs and entrepreneurs who are fighting it:

Since the mid-1990s, America's largest computer and software companies have been trying to rewrite U.S. patent law. The goal was to stem the tide of patent litigation, much of it generated by inventors and small companies trying to protect their intellectual property. But each time Big Tech tried to sell Congress on reform, it ran into an even mightier constituency: Big Pharma. Drugmakers had no problem with the current system, and they had the ear of Republican leaders.

Now Democrats are in charge, the drug industry has fallen out of political favor, and lawmakers backed by the likes of Microsoft, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard are fast-tracking a new plan to overhaul the patent system. But they still aren't getting an easy ride. The past few weeks have brought an unexpected surge of opposition from what one lobbyist calls the "innovation ecosystem" - a sprawling network of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, trade groups, drug and medical equipment manufacturers, engineering societies, and research universities including Northwestern and Wisconsin. All of them agree that the legislation would weaken the value of patents, deal a blow to innovation, and send shock waves through the knowledge economy. "New companies use patents to protect the only thing they really have: their ideas," says Hans Sauer, associate general counsel for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group.

That may be true in Biotech, but patents are not the most important barrier to entry and competitive differentiator for software startups: customers are, as Mike Moritz of Sequoia once said. We don't need more patents. We need better software and, more pertinently, better software businesses. Patents are often a roadblock, not a gateway, to these goals.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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