A better use for 4.5 billion dollars

I am shocked by the recent winning bid for Nortel’s patent portfolio.  4.5 billion U. S. dollars.  In cash!

More than shocked, I am saddened to see such a large sum squandered like this.  These patents won’t spur on innovation.  They won’t make their new owners into better companies.  At best, they’ll serve as (unreliable) insurance against the artificial, legally-facilitated disasters known as patent-infringement lawsuits.  At worst, these patents will act as a weapon of mass destruction, one that can inflict the same kind of fear and damage it’s supposed to guard against.  They’re a weapon to be aimed at competitors… and ultimately at society itself.  (Likely cost to society: more monopolies, narrower concentration of economic power, damage to or destruction of innovative companies that provide great value and wealth, among other costs.)

Seriously, what a waste! Those $4.5 billion could be used instead to jump-start true innovation.  If that sum were used to pay $100,000-a-year software-developer salaries, it could fund 45,000 developers for a year, or 9,000 developers for five years.  What if those developers created software startup companies?  How many startups would that be?  How many new products and services would they give back to society?  To what degree would they doubtlessly stimulate the economy?  This is just one way in which such massive economic power could be used for good.  Surely there are other worthwhile possibilities…  But none of them will take place, in this case.

This $4.5-billion loss was enabled by the decrepit patent system currently in place in the U. S. (and possibly Canada.)  Lawmakers: Please consider abolishing software patents (and whatever is equivalent in practice to a software patent.)  Your society will be much better off.  Also, please take a hard look at other kinds of patents.  Ruthlessly question whether they truly foster innovation rather than litigation.  Do not give them the benefit of the doubt.

(Note: Some readers might protest my meddling, since I do not live in the United States nor Canada. However, U. S. laws in particular have a disproportionate influence on the rest of the world, for better or worse.  It is hard to remain respectfully silent, even for someone who is not directly a U. S. constituent.  In any case, I care about the whole world, and that includes caring about the U. S. and its well-being.)

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