By Scott Swain
On the surface a person might believe, "BUT IF WE DIDN'T HAVE PATENT LAW... it would open the floodgates for copycats everywhere. We would have Chinese phones that look like iPhones but run some lame OS. Innovation would be lost because no one needs to innovate in order to get sales."
I get and understand that some companies will copy instead of innovate. I get it that many people believe the government is the only way to prevent this scenario.
Four important points that weigh in favor of seriously reforming or even completely removing patent law:
(1) How many of these "copycats" will do this and be successful at it? Not everyone will do this or even want to. The fact that we have anything new in the world is a testament to that.
(2) Reputation, brand, first to market, quality, and integrity. These all mean something and have value. Do not ignore these market forces.
(3) Consumers win (price, etc.). Example: If a Chinese company succeeds in making an iPhone copy equal in every way (price, perceived quality/looks, AND quality) [i doubt this would happen; look at Chinese scooters for example], then one would assume they would try to sell it cheaper to draw away Apple customers. This is a big "IF" because Apple has agreements with their suppliers, economies of scale, etc. where I doubt anyone could exactly dupe the iPhone in all ways, including quality, and afford to sell it cheaper. BUT let's say they can. Then that means Apple is overpricing their product so the Chinese iPhone would force a market reckoning to a more fair price and keep Apple on their toes INNOVATING instead of SUING. The other, and more likely scenario is that the Chinese copy would be inferior. So yay, customers have a choice to buy the inferior version. Given the number of tech review sites, word of mouth, Internet, etc., it would not be a secret long that the Chinese version is substandard. But hey if poor people want a cheaper knockoff then why not? Their product would perform shittier and last half as long but they got what they paid for.
(4) Joe Blow Poor Guy Inventor wants to make a new phone/OS that blows away Android AND Apple. He has some revolutionary ideas but does need to at least use some of the basics that came before him, standing on the shoulders of his predecessors. But if you look at all the patents that exist in the phone market, you would see that Joe Blow has no chance in hell of creating his badass new phone/OS unless he joins Apple or Google or finds some super rich investor. Patents actually make it harder for the small guy!
So yes, I believe that if we radically changed patent law or even removed it, some would copy even more than we see now but the real question is: when you consider the potential small negatives as well as the big positives I mentioned above, will the net affect [to us all] of that happening be positive or negative? And bonus: less rules and less bureaucracy means a more efficient system!
Here is a very interesting article on the dangers of Patent Law.